The latest jukebox musical to emerge from the West End for a tour of the regions is Rock of Ages, which follows the familiar format of the genre in providing a stock plot that plays out around musical interludes, in this case comprising rock and power ballads from the 1980s.
Drew (Noel Sullivan) is drawn to LA to pursue his dream to be a rock star. Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth) arrives to make it as an actor. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, then boy finds girl again; whilst both Drew and Sherrie learn the hard life lesson that you don’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. It’s all pretty standard fare, but what raises Rock of Ages above the usual level of tiresome jukebox musicals is some memorable supporting characters and a healthily ironical look at its own corny and formulaic plot.
For once, the musical numbers match the action on the stage, rather than being gratuitously shoe-horned in. Some actual thought has gone into Rock of Ages, making it, despite the genre, feel fresh, fun and endlessly entertaining.
The two leads give excellent performances. Noel Sullivan is now a seasoned musical theatre star, and slips comfortably into the role of Drew, putting his wide-eyed innocence to good use. Cordelia Farnworth is equally sympathetic as Sherrie, and the chemistry between the two is suitably aww-inducing. Their singing voices are great too, with Farnworth giving a spine-tingling first solo of Extreme’s More Than Words.
Whilst the leads are great, their parts are straight in comparison to the circus of colourful characters around them, and the supporting actors in this tour are very impressive. We especially enjoyed Stephen Rahman-Hughes: who is wonderfully dirty and daft – as well as a terrific robot dancer. His character Lonny is also the narrator, and he has fun taking a sledgehammer to the forth wall. His bromance with ageing hippy Dennis (Daniel Fletcher) has the audience in hysterics.
The ostensible baddies are a German father and son (Jack Lord and Cameron Sharp) who come to town with nasty Teutonic ideas about razing it to the ground and building banal shopping malls. The British love their stereotypical Germans, and this duo rank alongside half the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo as far as taking the proverbial out of them goes. All that’s missing is a toothbrush moustache and a Basil Fawlty-style goose step.
The most outrageous character, Stacee Jaxx, is played with evident relish by Ben Richards. It’s certainly a confident performance, combining pantomime villainy with This Is Spinal Tap-like buffoonery. Richards certainly makes an impression.
Rock of Ages is light-hearted fun that will have you laughing along. Aficionados of 80s rock may find an especial affinity with it, since it includes live performances of hits from Starship, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, Whitesnake and many others. The colourful cast of characters in a seedy LA bar turn out to be great company for an evening.