Wednesday, September 27

Rock of Ages – Manchester Opera House

We were asked for proof of COVID vaccinations as we entered the theatre; those who couldn’t produce them were asked to take a temperature check at the side entrance.  All theatre staff were wearing masks.

The theatre was two thirds full: mostly with a 23-35 year old age group with a sprinkling of older theatre-goers.  There was an air of anticipation as we waited for the curtain to go up.  Once it did, two lone guitarists appeared beneath projected images of USA; the set was a nightclub, The Bourbon Room, with a small stage and a bar with tables and chairs.

Rock of Ages doesn’t have much of a story, but for what there is, it is a typical love story, well three love stories really but the main story concerns a small town girl, Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman), who relocates to LA with dreams of becoming an actress and Drew (Luke Walsh) a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit, a wannabe rock star.  Like most stories, their tale of falling in love is complicated.

The show was loud, bright and high energy throughout, although at times the lighting was too bright and although I am an enthusiastic fan of rock music, the sound was too loud and I found my ears were hurting and painful.

The first half of the show was disappointing; singing voices by all were strong but they lacked substance and conviction. I think the audience felt let down as there was somewhat half-hearted clapping and minimal appreciation for the lack-lustre performances.

Rock of Ages Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Unfortunately, I found, Joe Gash as Lonny Barnett and narrator of the show, extremely irritating.  He came across as an effeminate Russell Brand, very hyper and over-the-top and annoying.  At one point he made sitting in the front row of the show one of the most dangerous activities of the night as Kirsty (a member of the audience), found out; she has my sympathies as she was incorporated into the show, I assume, without prior knowledge or acceptance and for me it was just a step too far. Gash has a pivotal part in the show and a heavy script-load which he navigates well; he managed to include sarcastic quips about the original film and The Times giving the Broadway show only two stars. All eyes were definitely on him, even when he was in the background.

There was much improvement in the second half; the singers were convincing, and they found their confidence, notably.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find the production lived up to the hype (“It will have you laughing and rocking in equal measure”).  In terms of the humour, it fell flat for me; it was hit and miss, mostly miss, except for the cartwheel scene and the stunt barman scene which had the actors missing lines due to not being able to control their own laughter.

The character of Stacee Jaxx was played by Kevin Clifton (star of BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing); regrettably he didn’t have the stage presence for the part.  Being of diminutive stature he didn’t have the physicality nor the acting ability to successfully pull-off the part and his performance was somewhat forgettable except for an amusing entrance near the end where he comes on stage dressed as a Mexican in sombrero and poncho, as the back end of a llama, reminiscent of Bernie Clifton in true emu-style.

The show concluded with the same two lone guitarists playing their rock music favourites.

The musical features classic rock songs from groups such as Starship, Journey, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Foreigner. 1980’s hits such as ‘We Built this City’,’ I Want to Know What Love is’ and ‘The Final Countdown’ are incorporated into the show along with others.  The hit song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is the one which got the audience up on their feet clapping, dancing and singing along at the end; unfortunately, my belief withered, and I didn’t have much faith in this show.

Rock of Ages is at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday 9th Oct 2021.

Reviewer: Anne Pritchard

Reviewed: 7th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★