In our first combined writer review, Digital Editor Tamzin Meyer and Culture Writer Charley Davies rave about the musical Rock of Ages and recommend it as the ultimate show for kickstarting theatre re-openings
Rock of Ages is the perfect musical to kickstart the return to live theatre and is one for everyone, combining a romantic storyline with the best 80s rock hits (including Starship’s ‘We Built this City’, Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown and Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’) in true jukebox style, being accompanied with sensational vocals. If that does not rock your boat enough, the cast is studded with Strictly’s winning professional dancer, Kevin Clifton, who proves that he is indeed a triple threat. Who knew he could act, sing and dance so convincingly?
The musical centres around the meeting of small-town sweetheart Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman), with big dreams of making it as an actress in LA, and Drew (Luke Walsh), also trying to make it with his rock band. We see their relationship ebb and flow as they face the effects of friend-zoning, following their dreams and love-rival rock stars like Stacee Jaxx (Clifton), whose interests are focused upon making his ego bigger no matter who he hurts in the process, much to the disappointment of Sherrie. With the beloved home of Rock and Roll, The Bourbon Room, being threatened with destruction, the audience is reassured that the rockers will do everything they can to save it, keeping the spirit of music alive.
Underscoring the action is narrator Lonny who is self-aware of the love story arc, where all ends are loose as the curtain falls at the end of Act One, to be neatly tied up by the show’s finale. Indeed, our expectations for this character were exceeded by Joe Gash’s characterisation. Whilst other cast members had an extensive professional resume, it was the former cruise ship singer that was the true star of the show. Lonny himself acknowledged this as Act One drew to a close; he hunched across the stage, clutching his back in what looked like convincing pain, only for him to proudly exclaim that he was “carrying the weight of the show on [his] back”. Every time he graced the stage, he was certain to have the audience in a barrel of laughs. You could not look down for a second without missing a moment encrusted with irony or an innuendo.
Humour was embedded into the writing and performance throughout the musical’s entirety, much to the audience’s delight. The comically steamy scenes, filled with humour of a sexual nature, made the show a late-night must-see for an adult audience. Regina (Gabriella Williams) -pronounced Re-j-ina to give us an added chuckle- had us all in stitches with her cartwheels, in a rainbow leotard, showing an exposed patch of faux pubic hair for comical effect, whilst Lonny ensured that the audience interacted with the comedy of the show, picking upon an audience member who subsequently became the subject of many jokes – even having their name written onto a message board which was carried across the stage. This was a truly entertaining and creative added touch to the show which really encouraged audience participation. Sometimes it was difficult to know whether some of the humour was written into the script or not with moments like this creating a personal spontaneity about the show which placed entertaining the audience at its heart.
Plot and humour aside, credit has to be given to the props and costume department for really making us believe that we had stepped into the world of an 80’s rocker. In fact, the use of props and costumes was so creative – think hilarious llama costumes and tiny motorbikes – that the comical elements of the musical extended much further than the plot alone.
As the finale approached, the show certainly went out with a bang (with Regina even setting herself on fire); resolutions were made and clarity was added through the final song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ that tied everything nicely together (it was as if the song was written for Drew and Sherrie, even referencing Sherrie’s ticket for ‘the midnight train.’)
We left The Alexandra Theatre with hands that ached from clapping, being touched by the sentimental speech Clifton made at the end thanking the audience for allowing the cast to perform once again. After the eighteen months we have just had, Rock of Ages gave us the perfect chance to let loose and gain our freedom back.
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