The crowd is restless, raucous even. The walls are pasted with dishevelled gig posters and the music is blaring with ear-drum piercing electric guitar solos. I feel like I’ve walked into an underground club, not a West End theatre in London. I’ve been to plenty of London musicals, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this.
The mosh-pit of spectators whoop and cheer like teenagers at a concert as the lights dim and they take their seats to a distorted smash of static and amplified bass. The curtains rise as the MC growls:
‘Prepare to have your faces melted off!’
It appears that Rock of Ages isn’t going to be just any old musical.
Image by Edinburgh Wanderer
As I sink back into my velour seat, which only whiffs slightly of stale beer, I’m transported from today’s London to 1980’s Los Angeles, where dreams and hopes flock in hopes of fruition.
The plot centres on the Bourbon Room – a grungy rock bar on the Sunset Strip – and the personal and professional challenges faced by its staff and performers.
Sherrie and Drew (Hollywood actress and rock star wannabes respectively) are two star-crossed lovers in leather and studded boots, whose up and down romance leads to performances of epic rock-ballads such as I Want to Know What Love is, More Than Words and Can’t Fight this Feeling. It’s toe-tapping, lighter-swaying, all-American goodness; you just can’t help but sing along.
When German developers arrive and convince the mayor to clean up the town, aiming to demolish the Bourbon Room in the process, bar owner Dennis (Justin Lee Collins) convinces superstar Stacee Jaxx (Shayne Ward) to revisit his old haunt and play his last gig, hoping to raise funds for the endangered bar.
Lonny Barnett, narrator and arguably the star of the show, flits about the stage like an 80s punk rock Puck; cheeky, mischievous and flirty, the skinny-jeaned storyteller milks his gags for all they’re worth, feeding from the unrestrained enthusiasm of the spectators. His skill is that he never takes it too far, but pushes the laughs to the limit until the audience are giddy, giggly and just a little bit in love with him.
Image by Miss.Libertine
Rock of Ages is certainly not your average musical. The hero has tattoos and is wearing a vintage Slade t-shirt for a start. The storyline is simple, the acting is outstanding and the post-modern edge (the fact that the characters are aware they are in a musical) makes the fantastic cast even more endearing.
The classic components of catchy tunes, a compelling love story, entertaining dance numbers and comical characters all ensure this show is a success and it’s just as cheesy as any clichéd, jazz-hands number – but it’s the interactivity, the nostalgia and the edgy humour which really make Rock of Ages a must see.
This is pure London entertainment, amplified; basically, this musical rocks.
Rock of Ages is staged at Shaftesbury Theatre – Fri 7.30pm, Sat 4pm and 8pm, Sun 3.30pm and 7pm. The film adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Russell Brand is hitting screens on June 15th.
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