Front Row Review: Rock of Ages
Date Posted: 29/09/2011
Carrie Martindale backcombed her hair, plastered on the eyeliner, jumped into her DeLorean and travelled back in time to the rockin’ 1980s.
As the member of the Group Leisure team voted most likely to wear a bandana into the office, I had my name down in lights for reviewing the loudest new ticket in town – Rock of Ages. Described as being ‘Spinal Tap meets Rocky Horror’, the show definitely isn’t going to appeal to everybody, but if this portrayal whets your interest – as it did mine - then read on...
You may have already gathered that this is a slightly risqué show. From the moment you enter the auditorium you are regaled with heavy rock tunes from the period; red-neon promises of Jack Daniels; rock bands; live nudes and ‘girls, girls, girls’. The excesses of the 80s are accentuated by a bevy of scantily-clad beauties who leave very little to the imagination.
The story takes place on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles; Mecca for many a rocker. The set mimics a night out at one of LA’s notorious clubs; in this case we are in the fictitious ‘Dupree’s Bourbon Rooms’, complete with stage and resident rock band ‘Arsenal’ in place. It’s a nice touch that the band remains onstage for the entire course of the musical – doubling up as both the house band, and as characters within the plot.
Story-wise, Rock of Ages is nothing new - it’s a classic boy meets girl tale. In fact, the storyline mimics the lyrics of Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey; and fans of the genre can hear classic rock tunes in the set list, from the likes of Foreigner, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi. I felt like I had seen it all before though with this show, and I’m not sure if that was entirely down to the plot. The songs were classics, but amalgamations of the tunes adapted to the show, which sometimes worked and sometimes fell a little short.
The casting of Rock of Ages is also interesting, as it places stalwart thespians alongside theatrical novice, Justin Lee Collins. As Dennis Dupree, the presenter can sing and move surprisingly well, but I felt he lacked charisma for most of the show - only coming in to his own during the second act, and notably during his scenes with Lonny. Lonny is the show’s mullet-sporting narrator, and is played faultlessly by Simon Lipkin. The gyrating, and at times mincing, Lonny’s comic-timing and rapport with the audience is spot-on and, however naughty he might be, he makes you laugh out loud.
Admirable mention must also go to the actor who plays Franz (Sandy Moffat). I think most of the audience were in love with this adorable, blonde, camp, German closet-rock lover who was dangerously close to stealing the show. Equally, Shayne Ward as the lecherous Sebastian Bach-a-like rock idol Stacee Jaxx was superb – and there simply wasn’t enough of him. That’s the way I found it with Rock of Ages, the minor characters shining more than their headlining co-stars. I can’t take any credit away from leads Amy Pemberton as Sherrie and Oliver Tompsett as Drew however, as their singing and dancing capabilities were fabulous, but I didn’t warm to them as a couple.
There are some clever scene changes within quite a simple set, and great use of a big screen which becomes the location for vignettes such as telephone conversations, LA cityscapes, or moving streets to Drew’s car. However, I occasionally felt that this distracted from the action on stage, and I think I missed one by looking at the other. On the plus side, the lighting and pyrotechnics people must have had a field day with this show – as it attempts to echo the excess and glamour of stadium-rock shows, and the audience is covered with an explosion of glitter, streamers and sparks.
With its (simulated) sex acts, lap dancing, profanities, and toilet humour, Rock of Ages is almost as badly behaved as a bunch of Mötley Crüe groupies. Please don’t go and see this if you are easily offended because it is a little bit rude, sometimes crude, and ever-so slightly crass. However, don’t let the aforementioned put you off because this is a show that doesn’t take itself at all seriously. So, if you’re prepared to see a light-hearted show, and want numbers, glamour, and laughs as big as the hair, then go and see Rock of Ages. It’s not Rocky Horror and it’s not Spinal Tap, but it sure is good, unclean, fun.
Rock of Ages is currently booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 20th October 2012. Performance times are Monday to Thursday evenings at 7.30pm, Friday at 8.30pm and Saturday at 8pm. Matinees at 5.30pm on Fridays and 4pm on Saturdays. Groups of six plus or ten or more are entitled to discounted ticket rates, valid for all performances.