Rock of Ages
Chris D’Arienzo and Ethan Popp
Dan Looney, Adam Paulden, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Richard Klin for DLAP group, Sue Gilad and Larry Rogowsky
Manchester Opera House, March 14-18; 2hrs, 35 mins
(also Venue Cymru, Llandudno May2-6; Lyceum Theatre Crewe May 9-13; New Theatre Hull May 16-20; Theatre Royal Newcastle June 13-17)
This supercharged 1980s glam metal jukebox spectacle opens with our nihilist exhibitionist host, narrator, sound-guy and "dramatic conjuror", Lonny Barnet (Darius James at this performance), who sets the tone with demands for some call and response audience participation.
It’s essentially a wild, hedonistic, high-octane pantomime of obscenities, so at least we know what we’re in for.
The story is nothing special. Our girl Sherrie (Gabriella Williams) arrives in the big city from the backwaters; our boy Drew (Sam Turrell) meets girl, loses girl, guess what happens next... all against a backdrop of LA's Sunset Strip, with a ready cocktail of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll (80s style), and some moral protests against commercial town planning, and in favour of rock, for good measure.
The characters are archetypes (to be kind) but often well done, and some of the voices are truly incredible. Natalie Winsor particularly stunned vocally as Justice the owner of the Venus strip club, where our heroine does a stint. Of course everybody of note regrets it later, bows to the moral superiority of true love over casual sex and making easy money in your knickers, and lives happily ever after. There are still plenty of women in lingerie decorating the stage, but they’re ensemble and don’t get a story, so who cares right? That’s rock ’n’ roll for you. Turrell was also on top vocal form, along with cover Reece Duncan who gave us powerful rock star sleaze in the shape of lead singer Stacee Jaxx.
Perhaps a surprise heavyweight of the show, Kevin Kennedy (you may remember him as Corrie’s hapless Curly Watts) plays ageing hippie rocker and club owner Dennis Dupree with credibility, comedy and charm and a great voice to boot. The best moments are perhaps his, in comedy duo with James as Lonny: an odd couple to rival Curly and Raquel.
Musically this show promises more than it delivers, with some amazing songs, incredibly well-performed, but constantly cut short and intercepted to serve the decidedly average narrative. It’s frustrating. Technical problems also plagued the evening, which started half an hour late, and had a brief hiatus during Act II when a microphone failed. There were several more crackles and pops that were unfortunate in a show that hinged so much on the music.
And yet the show went on and the cast was valiant. There were hilarious moments of improvised comedy, corpsing that served to bring the audience into the joke, and the sort of fun between cast and audience that only comes from this type of tongue-in-cheek, self-aware musical theatre.
More info and tickets here