Theatre! Theatre! Theatre! So good they said it thrice! How absolutely wonderful to be back in the theatre watching live performances once again! This was my first visit to the theatre in 18 months (as it probably was for a lot of people here at the grand Liverpool Empire this evening) and I was to see a show that, although I have seen before, I was gasping for breath to see. I needed a laugh, some upliftment and an escape from the fear and dreariness of the last year or so and I was hoping that ‘Rock of Ages’ could do this.
So, on entering the theatre, I wasn’t that surprised that the auditorium was half empty, people are still cautious, I appreciate that – although I must add that there are safety measures in place at the Empire (evidence of negative lateral flow test or proof of double jabbed) which made me and a lot of others, I imagine, feel safer and more relaxed. I must admit what the audience lacked in numbers throughout the show, they made up for in sheer enthusiasm, participation and excitement and as the show eventually started – after a 25-minute delay due to technical difficulties -the audience welcomed the cast with roaring applause and cheers – everyone was ‘up for this’ and the theatre was alive again.
For those that have never seen ‘Rock of Ages,’ it is a show that leads you through the hits and the not-so hits of the 80’s but you’ll be able to sing along to every word, as every song has been engrained in our memories, recounting those cheesy frilly blouses, stubborn 60’s-stuck flower loving hippies, the embarrassing skin-tight jeans , the ridiculous hairstyles and as the hits are sung one after another with gusto and passion, you will be transported to them heady days of a very different era.
From the opening number – set in 1987 in Los Angeles – with strobe lights and blasting electric guitars – the scene was set- ‘Come on feel the noise’, ‘Just like living in paradise’ and ‘Looking for a good time’, had already been sung within the opening scene and we were there with them in the Bourbon Room on Sunset Strip wanting more.
The set, like the costumes, were raunchy and glitzy and the narrator – the Jack-Sparrow lookalike- Lonny – played by the engaging and funny Joe Gash, led us through the story of love at first sight, the struggle of opposing ruthless construction companies, inner beliefs and the struggle to hold on to what matters, in a way that was both hilarious and sentimental. The love torn battle of an upcoming star and a used-up star for one woman is almost Shakespearean but done with such panache and in a tongue-in- cheek way, that it is never taken that seriously. The audience loved Lonny – especially when he engaged with a woman in the front row and proceeded to include her throughout the whole show – how she must have cringed but secretly adored it! Well done! An excellent touch!
So, throughout each scene the hits kept coming, too many to list, but as songs from Foreigner, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake were sang with strong vocals and great choreography, the audience were on their feet clapping, singing and laughing along with the lude, sometimes rude gags and feeling thoroughly part of this story.
The second act kept up the momentum and again the hits kept coming. The scene opened with the construction ball blasting through the backdrop representing the boulevard and we were there with the cast, fighting their cause. The part when the bar owner Dennis Dupree, played by the engaging Ross Dawes, did the cartwheels was sublime and had both him and Joe Gash fluffing their lines in schoolboy like giggles that again was endearing and charming. The dances danced well, the singers sang well -brilliant voice of Justice – played by Jenny Fitzpatrick and the sets were perfect. The character that stole the show for me though, was the construction manager’s son – the camp and hilarious Franz – who was played superbly by Andrew Carthy- what a showstopper! By the end of the show as we were all up on our feet to Journey’s wonderful ‘Don’t stop believing’ everyone was ‘buzzing. The show was a great success, my hopes had been met and everyone ‘glowed’ again. A fitting tribute to the world of theatre was fondly given by the old rocker Stacee Jaxx – played brilliantly by Kevin Clifton, at the end of the show, to thank the audience for attending tonight and to persuade others to return to live theatre.
‘Rock of Ages’ is playing at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday 18th September with shows at 7.30am and a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm. Ticket prices range from £13-£45, and can be purchased at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/rock-of-ages/liverpool-empire/
Don’t worry Kevin – I will – tonight was a joy!
Reviewer: Jan Mellor
Reviewed: 14th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★