Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Theatre review: Rock of Ages


Synopsis: Set in LA's infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages tells the story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit, and Sherrie, a small-town girl, both in LA to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love. Rock of Ages takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair! This five-time Tony Award nominated musical is now being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise.

Cast: Oliver Tompsett, Natalie Andreou, Simon Lipkin, Shayne Ward, Justin Lee Collins, Nathan Amzi, Jodie Jacobs, Rachel McFarlane, Sandy Moffat, Twinnie-Lee Moore, Zizi Strallen, Rohan Tickell. Ensemble: Grant Anthony, Scarlette Douglas, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Cordelia Farnworth, Ian McIntosh, Jamie Muscato, Andrew Spillett, Amy Thornton and Dylan Turner.


Rating:


Rock of Ages is filled with catchy dance-in-your-seat and sing-along songs, a truly superb cast, laugh out loud funny moments in which the fourth wall is broken down more often than not, and has a brilliant rock concert atmosphere.

As soon as the audience walks in they're greeted by loud Bon Jovi music, a set that looks like a slightly seedy yet strangely inviting bar and is graced by ads for "Live Nudes" and knickers hanging from the chandeliers, ushers that sell beers at the seats and others that hand out mini led torches with the instruction to turn them on and sway along during the ballads. The message is clear: This is not the kind of show that wants the spectator to remain motionless in their seats. On contrary, audience participation is encouraged and very much a part of what makes the experience so wonderful and different from most other shows currently running in the West End.

The musical has been criticized for not having the most ingenious plot imaginable as it centers around Drew, a wannabe rockstar who moves to LA from Michigan, and Sherrie, a wannabe actress who moves to that very same LA from Kansas. Yet, with a subplot focusing on two over the top comical German developers trying to buy the Sunset Strip and turn it into "a European model of clean, pure, efficient living", which is held back by bar-owner Dennis Dupree who doesn't want to sell the Bourbon Room and asks rockstar Stacee Jaxx to play the final gig with his band Arsenal in the club to attract the necessary money and publicity to keep it open, there certainly is plenty going on to keep the audience's attention. Combine that with a killer soundtrack filled with 80s classics and you've get yourself a fantastic rock musical.

The most brilliant move made by Chris D'Arienzo, who penned the book, is that the show doesn't take itself too seriously. The sound guy to the Bourbon Room, Lonny, also acts as the narrator and oftentimes breaks down the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience, telling characters they're in Rock of Ages and ad-libbing the hell out of his scenes until neither the audience nor the cast present on stage can keep straight faces.

Having seen bits and pieces of the Broadway show online I need to mention that the UK cast easily tops those performances (and making the need for an original London cast recording, for which there's been active campaigning in the Twitter-sphere, even more pressing). Rock of Ages isn't your average West End show and the tireless energy many of the rock-style songs demand understandably take its toll on the cast. This means that most nights several swings will be on for major roles, but don't let that put you off, because every single one does a stellar job. Cast members that stand out night after night include:

Oliver Tompsett (Drew Boley) has the best male voice currently gracing a West End stage and while "burdened" (I use the term loosely here, while undoubtedly a strain on his voice, it must also be a fantastic opportunity to be able to belt out these 80s classics each night) with performing the majority of the songs he manages to impress until the very end. In fact, the most majestic showcase of his vocal talents comes in the shape of an insanely long note during one of the final songs. As a leading man he certainly holds his own. Bonus, he's very easy on the eyes too!

Natalie Andreou (Sherrie Christian) had to, due to illness of original lead Amy Pemberton, step up to the plate very early on in previews and has since officially taken over the role. She has proven her worth by making the character her own and growing into a true leading lady these past six months.

Simon Lipkin (Lonny Barnett) is the comedic glue that holds it all together. Even if his written lines wouldn't already steal the show, Lipkin would still manage to be the indisputable star with his memorable ad-libbing scenes that form the highlight of the night.

Former X-Factor winner Shayne Ward (Stacee Jaxx) and comedian Justin Lee Collins (Dennis Dupree) are billed as the stars of the show and while neither of their roles are as big as publicity make them out to be, for unseasoned West End actors they more than hold their ground. Hopefully this means the start of a long career in musical theatre for the both of them!

With the ambiance in the theatre being that of contagious glee throughout, Rock of Ages is the most fun I've ever had at a musical. Let's hope the character of Dennis was clairvoyant when singing these altered lyrics to Don't Stop Believin' during the glitter-filled grand finale, "The musical will go on, and on and on and on", because I can certainly see this show again, and again and again and again.




Location: Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8DP.

Ticket info: Prices range from £20 to £65. Premium seats are also available for all performances (no booking fee). There are £25 tickets for Students and Seniors, and £25 front row stalls day seats available from the Box Office, in person, from 10am on the day of performance.

Links: Official website - Book tickets

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