It’s not very often I go to see a show where I have absolutely no idea of the plot, or the songs or anything for that matter. For Rock Of Ages I did just this, I entered the theatre blissfully unaware of what to expect, apart from, as the title suggests, rock music. Upon entering the Shaftesbury Theatre, music is the first thing that hits you, not the gentile, delicate kind usually heard in theatre foyers, but loud 80s, rock, metal, pop-rock. However you want to categorize it, it’s there and in your face. Also straying from the hushed, polite atmosphere in most other theatres, is the number of rock band posters, advertising and…women’s underwear strewn about. Are you in for an evening of debauchery? Well not really, but you are in for a night of laughs, scantily clad girls, long hair and of course, the occasional power rock ballad.
Without giving away too much, the story of Rock Of Ages is simply, small town girl moves to the big city and falls in love with a wannabe rock star. Of course mistakes are made and wires are crossed, sending both parties into turmoil. What gives Rock of Ages an extra edge over some similar Coyote Ugly style stories is the fantastic element of comedy throughout. We open with Simon Lipkin playing the part of Lonny, barman at The Bourbon Room, the LA Sunset Strip bar in which most of the show is set. Lipkin is funny, charismatic, vocally strong and plays Lonny to a very risky degree. This is by no means a bad thing, he received the most frequent and biggest laughs during the evening. We are also introduced to Dennis Dupree, the owner of The Bourbon Room, played by Justin Lee Collins. His character improves throughout the show and by Act 2, he is fighting with Lipkin for the biggest laughs. These two are a great comedic pair and make Rock Of Ages a very enjoyable night. Unusually, but appearing more often in Musical Theatre, the ‘Fourth Wall’ with the audience is broken numerous times in the show. These parts are no doubt improvised and give a great feeling that the show is fresh, lively and spontaneous.
Our two lovebirds are Sherrie and Drew, played by Natalie Andreou (understudy) and Oliver Tompsett. The latter never fails to impress, his vocal ability suits the part well adding a raspy ‘rock’ tonality to his voice. He is charming and sensitive as an actor and plays the part of Drew with good conviction. Vocally, Andreou took a little while to warm up in the role of Sherrie but still gave a strong performance, especially in Act 2. This actress is genuine and really lovely to watch. She gave Sherrie a youthful innocence, which worked well as the wannabe actress, in love, with an awful job to pay the bills.
There is a dual plot element to Rock Of Ages. As well as the love story between Drew and Sherrie, there is the threatened take over and demolition of the Sunset Strip, where The Bourbon Room is located, by a large German corporation. Activist and protestor Regina, played by Jodie Jacobs, gives everything she can to protect the site, because after all ‘We Built This City on Rock and Roll!’ Jacobs shines in this role with a superb vocal ability and even the sounds of Hannah Jane Fox creeping through. Also involved in this plot line is Franz, son of the German corporation owner, played by Sandy Moffat. A little too camp and over the top for me, but none-the-less, still amusing.
X Factor winner Shayne Ward is one of the selling points in the marketing for Rock Of Ages but this needn’t be! The show is strong enough without the need for a ‘celebrity’ to bring in the public. His character, Stacee Jaxx, is the protagonist for the turmoil of our lovebirds, but other than that, he doesn’t feature heavily in the story. Personally I don’t think his voice is strong enough to play what seemed to have been an aging rocker from the 80s. He has stage presence and charisma but just didn’t quite achieve brilliance for me.
As promised, Rock Of Ages is bursting with rock tunes my Dad would be proud of. Being that they were sung by those trained more in Musical Theatre, some of the songs lost their original power, but the band was excellent and kept the atmosphere buzzing. There is the occasional unnecessary moment, a random contemporary dance for example, and scantily clad dancers in every scene. Despite the occasional niggle, it was a very enjoyable night. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to laugh for a couple of hours. Go with all the girls for a giggle, or grab your 40 or 50 something Dad for a night out! There are definitely a few surprises worth seeing.
Lonny – Simon Lipkin
Dennis Dupree – Justin Lee Collins
Drew – Oliver Tompsett
Sherrie – Natalie Andreou
14th September 2011