‘You’ve got the recipe for a great show’: ROCK OF AGES – Touring

In Musicals, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews, Touring by Liz DyerLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Chris D’Arienzo’s 2005 jukebox musical Rock of Ages has a lot going for it: a soundtrack of epic 80s rock classics, a feel-good LA love story, and perhaps most importantly, an absolute refusal to take itself seriously at any point. Add in the universally fantastic cast of Nick Winston’s touring production, and – a little bit of questionable humour aside – you’ve got the recipe for a great show (but maybe leave the kids at home).

The year is 1987, and wannabe actress Sherrie (Danielle Hope) has just arrived on the Sunset Strip, where she meets wannabe rock star Drew (Luke Walsh), but their budding romance is endangered when actual rock star Stacee Jaxx (Sam Ferriday) turns up. One thing leads to another, and as Drew’s getting discovered by a record producer, Sherrie ends up working as a stripper for Justice (Zoe Birkett) at the Venus Club.

Meanwhile, local legend Dennis Dupree (Kevin Kennedy) must defend his beloved bar from two Germans (Andrew Carthy and Vas Constanti), who want to tear down the Strip and replace it with a Foot Locker – a plan also opposed vehemently by former City Planner Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman). It’s a long and bumpy road, but in the end, everyone gets what they want – even if they didn’t know it was what they wanted in the first place.

The story is nothing we haven’t seen plenty of times before, but Rock of Ages realises that and leans into it, understanding that nobody in the audience has bought a ticket for the plot anyway, so why not have some fun with it? Narrator Lonny – in a hilarious, show-stealing performance from Lucas Rush – does exactly that, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, openly acknowledging the formulaic nature of the story and turning it into a running joke that the audience is more than happy to go along with while we wait for the next rock classic.

And fortunately, we never have long to wait. We Built This City, We’re Not Gonna Take It, I Want to Know What Love Is, Here I Go Again, The Final Countdown, I Can’t Fight This Feeling, Don’t Stop Believing… and so many more hits make it almost impossible to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. They’re also an excuse for the cast to showcase some sensational vocals; the show has an unusually large quantity of lead characters and without question, every single one of them delivers. Even the numbers that are clearly aiming more for comedy – like Lonny and Dennis’ duet in Act 2, or anything involving the Germans – don’t compromise on vocal quality. Barney Ashworth’s band are similarly excellent, and from a musical point of view, there’s absolutely no doubt that Rock of Ages is a resounding triumph.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

The one area where the show falters a little is in some of the humour, which is not so much offensive as just a bit tired. For instance, it’s never really clear why the two property developers have to be German, except as an excuse to make cheap gags at their expense – and in a script that has so much good stuff going for it in terms of comedy, this doesn’t add anything and feels unnecessary. And yes, I know the show is set in the 80s, but the less said about its portrayal of women, the better. (To quote my friend at the interval, “It’s good, but you can tell it was written by a man.”)

All the same, Rock of Ages does what it sets out to do: it well and truly rocks, and does so in an engagingly self-aware way that some other jukebox musicals could definitely learn a thing or two from. Great fun for a cheesy – and slightly cheeky – night out.

Rock of Ages is at the Orchard Theatre until 24th November, before continuing on tour.

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Liz Dyer on FacebookLiz Dyer on Twitter
Liz Dyer
A lifelong fan who's always been far more comfortable watching theatre than making it, Liz Dyer fell into blogging very much by accident after joining the blog team at London Theatre Direct. From there, she began reviewing regularly for LondonTheatre1.com and (fellow Mate) Carn's Theatre Passion, before setting up her own site Theatre Things in 2015 to cover shows across London and Kent. She tweets from her blog at @theatrethingsuk and personally at @lizzid82.
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Liz Dyer on FacebookLiz Dyer on Twitter
Liz Dyer
A lifelong fan who's always been far more comfortable watching theatre than making it, Liz Dyer fell into blogging very much by accident after joining the blog team at London Theatre Direct. From there, she began reviewing regularly for LondonTheatre1.com and (fellow Mate) Carn's Theatre Passion, before setting up her own site Theatre Things in 2015 to cover shows across London and Kent. She tweets from her blog at @theatrethingsuk and personally at @lizzid82.