Part rock gig, part romp down memory lane, the new tour of Rock of Ages has landed, ready to make the UK ‘feel the noize’ and indulge in some heavy metal headbanging.
Tonight, we’ve been transported from the centre of Birmingham to the heart of Los Angeles, the Sunset Strip. We meet the regulars of the Bourbon Bar; an insalubrious rock joint being faced with extinction as a villainous German duo look to demolish and develop the gritty Strip into a gleaming European vision of modernity.
Underneath this shadow we meet barback Drew who is instantly smitten with the wholesome new girl in town Sherrie, and the show follows their budding ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship as they navigate the standard fare of missed opportunities and misunderstandings as well as their attempts to make it as rock god and actress respectively.
Luke Walsh and Rhiannon Chesterman give solid performances as our two leads, with strong vocals bringing the back catalogue of 80s hair metal to life. Walsh’s rock stylings and charisma nicely develop through the show and Chesterman is a charming Sherrie, as we see her innocence chipped away by the less scrupulous characters she encounters.
Our and their journey is steered by the irrepressible Lonny, played with outlandish levels of swagger and sass by Joe Gash. His regular fourth wall breaking quips and omnipresence in the lives of his fellow characters bring the biggest laughs in the show. You can’t help but think his jibe about hurting his back through carrying the show has more than a ring of truth to it.
He is given a good run for his money though by Andrew Carthy as Franz, one of our German duo, who completely wins over the audience in the battle with his father Hertz (the enjoyably mean Vas Constanti) over his plans for the strip. Landing somewhere between Peewee Herman and Lazytown’s Robbie Rotten he makes the most of his stage time, with his rendition of ‘Hit me with your best shot’ with Gabriella Williams’ wonderful city planner Regina, being a highlight of the show.
Ross Dawes as bar owner Dennis Dupree and Jenny Fitzpatrick as strip club ‘mama’, Justice, are both excellent, possessing the voices most suited to the song repertoire within the cast. And our ‘star name’ casting, Kevin Clifton is hilarious as the air-headed and sleazy Stacee Jacks, using his ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ background to full effect, including in a couple of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos.
The cast are ably supported by a superb ensemble and onstage band (and one of the other highlights is how Rock of Ages puts its musicians into the spotlight rather than hidden away in a pit) with Morgan Large’s well-designed set; amplifiers and stage rigging give a simple but effective layout to create height and depth, and the choice of how to portray vehicles like motorbikes and construction vehicles is a hysterical stroke of genius.
This is intended to be supported by Duncan Mclean’s projection set-up providing a sense of location, but they are so high-up that they fade into the background; comedic touches that have been added to these (winking characters etc.) are at risk of being completely missed.
The sound levels also don’t seem quite right -there are occasions where duets and songs end up sounding muddy, even from the strongest singers.
At the end of the day though, Rock of Ages is a show of unbridled silliness and great music. The plotlines may be cliché upon cliché, but both cast and audience take great enjoyment from the opportunity to literally let their hair down, milking the choreography and direction from Nick Winston to bring us a light-hearted night of raucous entertainment.
Rock of Ages moves onto the Liverpool Empire from the 14th – 16th September before continuing across the UK. Full dates and tickets are available at www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 10th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★