How prescient of my husband and his astute observation as we took our seats before the stadium-like stage: stacked Marshall speakers and scaffold-like light-rigs setting the scene for a rockin’ 80s evening.
I had an idea of what to expect from Rock of Ages: a Jukebox Musical with a story, usually involving romance, built around a certain era or type of music. Having recently visited the New Theatre for the ballet, this was rather at the other end of the entertainment spectrum. That is not to detract from the premise; while it may not win any arthouse or theatrical awards, Rock of Ages is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Our self-proclaimed narrator for the evening bounded onto the stage in that iconic 80s leather-clad rocker way, with a confidence only a giant mullet and some smudged guyliner can produce. Lonny – performed by an unrecognisable (from his headshot in the programme) Lucas Rush, immediately set the tone for the evening. Not quite in the gutter, but hovering close to the ground. We were to be transported to ‘somewhere in the mid-to-late 80s’ Lonny informs us with a knowing look (a couple of tracks were certainly early 90s), the first of many. As the show began with high-energy, scantily clad, body-beautiful ladies danced onto the stage, backed by the ever-present band (discreetly tucked away at the back). Initially uncomfortable with the apparent misogyny that was unfolding before me both in language and provocative costume (a great deal of bottom slapping and cheek showing), I quickly settled into the over-arching tone of the show: fast-paced, loud and most of all, bawdy fun. And why not – Shakespeare made a good living out of his bawdy comedy.
The script, however, is not quite Shakespearean; with a rather predictable tale of the burgeoning love between a small-town girl and a city boy, and, at one point, a midnight train. See what they did there? However, what the show might lack in originality is more than compensated for in pure joie de vivre. The ensemble put their heart and soul into the performance and the talented leads find their way through a meandering plot involving romance, a quest for stardom and the potential gentrification of Sunset Strip in a fun, sexy and silly way. All with a heavily quirked eyebrow and our camp narrator (Lonny) consistently breaking the fourth wall with comedic expertise.
The cast are tireless in their efforts to entertain and it is difficult to pick out a favourite. Our lovelorn teens, Sherrie and Drew (Jodie Steele and Luke Walsh) are both outstanding vocally and well supported by the ‘names’ of the show. Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts from Corrie, no less) as Dennis, the ageing-hippy-cum-rocker owner of the downtrodden Bourbon Club, Zoe Birkett (former Pop Idol winner and an absolutely joy to listen to) and, of course, Kevin ‘from Grimsby’ Clifton as the arrogant rocker Stacee Jaxx. While Sherrie and Drew are omnipresent on stage throughout the show, I would have liked to hear and see more from Clifton and Birkett’s characters, both of whom brought some extra sparkle to the stage whenever they appeared. Birkett in particular was quite breathtaking in her effortless but powerful, soulful performance as the ‘Venus’ strip-club owner, Justice.
If it’s a rollicking, fun, tongue-in-cheek and naughty night out you’re after – this is definitely the show for you. With cheeky nipple-play (male only) and lovely bottoms aplenty Rock of Ages may not be the most politically correct show you’ll see this year, but it’s most certainly a nostalgic feast for the eyes and ears.