Theatre can take audiences on a journey through the whole gamut of emotions, but sometimes all you want to do is laugh, and rock out to some classic 80s hair rock, and Rock of Ages does just that.
Set to the backdrop of LA’s Sunset Strip of the 80s and the quest to save it from economic redevelopment, the exceptionally talented Lucas Rush (American Idiot) plays Lonny, Sound God, and through his comic genius and top drawer “narratoring” tells the story of love, loss and a lot of rock. From the opening number Rock of Ages is pure high octane fun and laughs with classic rock songs such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, “We Built This City” and of course “Don’t Stop Believin’” all sung brilliantly and woven effortlessly into the plot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and they all live happily ever after.
Rush commands the stage, and steals the show throughout with the help of a gospel group, 3D glasses, a palm tree and popcorn, and of course Lonny’s beloved Fogmaster 5000. Rush and Kevin Kennedy (Coronation Street, We Will Rock You), who plays Dennis Dupree the owner of the Bourbon Room, have a fantastic on stage bond, and everyone is rooting for the Bourbon Room to survive. Kennedy shows off his comic prowess to great aplomb throughout. Kennedy and Rush’s duet “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” is one of the highlights of the show.
Luke Walsh plays Drew, a city boy from Detroit, Michigan who has dreams of becoming a rock and roll star, and there is no doubt that Walsh has the wide eyed innocence and vocal range to play Drew, and make the audience fall in love with him and root for him to win in the end. Walsh gives an effortless performance and his closing note in “Oh Sherrie” brings the audience to life night after night. Walsh has great on stage camaraderie with Rush and Kennedy.
Jodie Steele (Heathers), plays Sherrie the small town girl who moves to LA in the hope of becoming an actress and she soon discovers that all that glistens isn’t gold. We see her fall from grace and eventual redemption through the show. Steele undoubtedly has the vocal range and power for the role, with songs such as “More Than Words” and her duet with Walsh “High Enough”, however there were times where I did struggle to see her as an innocent ingénue.
As with every good story there needs to be a bad guy, and the show does not disappoint. Vas Constanti (In The Heights) plays Hertz, a maniacal German who thinks that all the world needs is “clean, pure, efficient living”. Constanti plays Hertz fantastically and has the audience laughing sometimes uncomfortably with the perfectly played caricature of a German baddie. As well as the comic timing, Constanti comes into his own when he sings, the guy is a vocal powerhouse, from “Sister Christian” to the iconic “We Built This City” and “Keep on Loving You”, and he is a dab hand at driving a child’s ride on vehicle. Andy Carthy, plays Hertz’s son Franz, and he is just a scene stealer throughout and his duet with Rhiannon Chesterman’s Regina “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” is one of my favourite numbers, and definitely the best costume change of the night.
Strictly Come Dancing champion Kevin Clifton plays Stacee Jaxx, and shows off his previously hidden vocal abilities and shows audiences a different side to “Kevin from Grimsby”. Clifton is totally believable as the debauched and seedy rocker who has a penchant for younger women and llamas, and his rendition of “Wanted Dead or Alive” is the perfect mix of rock and sex.
Zoe Birkett (The Bodyguard) plays Justice, the owner of the Venus Club, and her voice is amazing. To listen to her vocals in songs such as “Shadows of the Night” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is a true pleasure. Her command of the stage is brilliant and Justice shows that everyone in the show has a heart somewhere.
The ensemble are one of the strongest I have seen in a musical for a long time, with standouts including Sinead Kenny as Waitress Number One, whose voice is one of the best I’ve heard in years; Bobby Windebank who takes eating a humble sandwich to a level not seen on stage before, and his protest buddy Josh Dever whose comic abilities are exceptional. Adam Strong is also a stand out member of the ensemble especially when he plays the Mayor.
The entire company show how gelled they are in the iconic closing number “Don’t Stop Believin’”, and I deny anyone to not sing along to this one.
Rock of Ages is the perfect way to spend an couple of hours, and you will come out feeling better and singing all the songs that you thought you had forgotten or denied you ever liked.
Rock of Ages is currently playing at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre. The tour moves onto Sunderland’s Empire Theatre before ending the current run at Leeds Grand Theatre. Tickets are available from the show’s website.