Debates have been raging over the newest entrant into the West End, Rock of Ages, which had its opening night this week at the Shaftesbury Theatre. During previews, audiences have been raving wildly about the Broadway transfer and extolling the virtues of its London cast. The critics who attended Wednesday’s opening night however, were not so quick to shower ROA with praise.
Reviews ranged from one star ratings to four, although unfortunately, most did veer towards the lower end of that spectrum. Michael Hann of The Guardian stamped the musical with a big, fat one star, proclaiming that “the book is as shallow as the scene it supposedly sends up.” Whatsonstage.com were slightly kinder with a two star rating, with Michael Coveney advising that “the only critical tactic to adopt is one of either submission or resentment.” The Independent printed a very positive review though; Pierre Perrone awarded ROA with four stars and professed the night to be, “the most fun I’ve had at a musical since Jersey Boys,” – at least, I take that to be a compliment.
My favourite critical reaction however, had to be from Charles Spencer in The Telegraph, who described ROA in his one star review as, “as unpleasant a pile of theatrical poo as it has ever been my misfortune to tread in.” There’s a response to a show I’ve not come across before…
The general consensus among the critics in that night seems to be that the selection of Rock n’ Roll songs, which are supposed to be the main draw of the show, are mediocre and will mainly appeal to audience members who have a pre-existing affinity for the genre of Eighties Rock. Celebrity castings Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward, billed as the show’s leads (although in truth, more the supporting acts) are, although hardly the objects of the critics’ affections, at least granted the plaudit of acceptability. Instead, it’s Oliver Thompsett and Amy Pemberton who received the biggest acclamation, along with Simon Lipkin as the show’s Narrator. The good name of the ‘Strallen Sisters’ is continued too with a superb performance by Zizi Strallen.
Rock of Ages revolves around the dreams and aspirations of small town girl Sherrie (Pemberton) and wannabe rock star Drew (Thompsett), their love story plumped up by the fight to save the Bourbon Bar, owned by Dennis Dupree (Lee Collins), and the complication that narcissistic rock god Stacey Jaxx (Ward) brings with his arrival.
Having not yet seen Rock of Ages for myself, I’m not in the position to offer my little pearls of wisdom on the merits of the show. In all honesty, it’s not a show that incites me to shell out £70 for a ticket – although the distribution of beer in the aisles could be enough to persuade me. It might not be my preferred brand of theatrical tea, but I’ve been to enough productions to know that it’s never beneficial to go in with too many preconceptions; you can sometimes be surprised by what you find if you open up your mind enough to give something new a try. I think it would be more for the cast than anything else, if and when I do get along to the Shaftesbury Theatre. Eighties Rock doesn’t usually feature much in my musical tastes, but there are some brilliantly talented performers in the cast and if, for no other reason than that, Rock of Ages deserves its shot at success. Audiences so far seem to love it and at the end of the day, they are the ones who will determine how long it stays with us in the West End. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago on the relevance of critics’ opinions and the importance of personal taste, the overview of which seems to resonate here. Either the critics or the audience’s voice will be heard the loudest; time will tell who was right in the long run.
One production whose praises are being sung all around the West End however, is Ghost. It’s been the runaway hit of the year and yesterday, news of its Broadway transfer was announced. It’s been known for some time that the musical is to head across the pond, but now there is a date, there is a place and it’s a pretty sure bet that there’s also an audience there, waiting with baited breath for its arrival.
Ghost will play the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, previewing from March 2012 and opening on 23rd April 2012. It’s not believed that the current London cast are to go with it.
I can’t go without making mention of The Phantom of the Opera 25th production, which has the first of its three performances tomorrow at the Royal Albert Hall. The sets are in, the cast are there, the orchestra is tuned and ready…all it needs now is the audience. The cast have been posting updates throughout the week from rehearsals, including yesterday’s sitzprobe. It’s inevitable that one or two little nuggets of information would slip out during this time and so they did, with confirmation of the presence of the original Christine, Sarah Brightman, drawing particular excitement from fans. Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber have already teased that there will appearances from some special guests, which include current Phantom, John Owen Jones. The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, is also expected to make an appearance in the show’s finale, suspectedly alongside other notorious Phantom names; Ramin Karimloo tweeting his excitement at having met the Australian Phantom legend, Anthony Warlow earlier this week, quickly fanned the flames of gossip.
There’s the dress rehearsal tomorrow afternoon, ahead of the first show that same evening, and I’ll be there for the final performance Sunday night. For those who couldn’t make it along to the Royal Albert Hall or any of the cinemas showing the live screenings, I shall of course be blogging all about it afterwards so you can share in the experience.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Get tickets for Rock of Ages
Get tickets for The Phantom of the Opera
30th September 2011