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Theatre review: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages has one final blast at the Winter Gardens Opera House this week before hanging up its skinny jeans for good. Catch it until Saturday if you fancy one last hit of nostalgia, Ricky Stack writes. Photo: the other Richard.

Some 18 years since its inception, jukebox musical Rock of Ages is catching the midnight train away from theatre stages. After gracing Broadway, the West End and touring the world, the 80’s glam metal themed show is currently on its final tour in the UK this year.

Born shortly after Queen-based musical, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages builds its storyline around the lyrics from bands such as Whitesnake, Poison and Twisted Sister to create a simple but entertaining narrative that pokes fun at the period, but that also indulges in it.

Aspiring rocker Drew Boley works as a busboy in the infamous LA rock club, the Bourbon Room. His talent and ambition goes unnoticed until one day a sweet, country girl, Sherrie Christian, starts working as a waitress as she plans to become a (you guessed it) a famous Hollywood actress. The pair begin to pursue the American dream until greedy German property developers come to town and encourage the local mayor to clean up the Sunset Strip, demolishing the Bourbon Room in the process.

Club owner, Dennis Dupree calls in a favour from legendary frontman, Stacee Jaxx, to play a final gig with his troubled band, Arsenal, to raise money and save the Bourbon Room. But Stacee Jaxx brings his own set of problems and soon gets in the way of Drew and Sherrie’s budding romance.

It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, and yes, a lot of musicals are supposed to be flamboyant and silly, but continuing the same old trope makes it a product of its own demise. Back in 2005, this musical may have seemed fresh and energetic, but after almost two decades, the idea has become haggard and worn out, much like an aging rock band.

That’s not to say the cast don’t put on a good show. Leads Sam Turrell and Gabriella Williams clearly have the vocal chops to belt out those high Cs whilst dancing around stage with the rest of the talented ensemble cast. Narrator and bar dweller, Lonny, played by Tim Oxbrow, is perfect as the MC breaking the fourth wall, cracking jokes, and interacting with the audience – but buddied up with bar owner, Dupree, played by none other than Kevin Kennedy (THE Curly Watts from Coronation Street) causes nothing but hilarity, and together they really set the tone of the musical. Kennedy, reprising his role from the previous 2018 tour, has a surprisingly great voice and it’s evident he fits the role well.

With the world being in a different place than it was even in the noughties, some of the jokes are a bit cringe, and you feel you are laughing at the absurdity of it, rather than along with it. The two German property developers are caricatures that you might find in an old BBC sketch show, and you can’t help but feel a small script change could bring the characters back to life again. With one of the Germans being played overtly camp, the revelation to find out he is not gay “he’s just German” only serves to demonstrate how comedy has collectively moved on.

Perhaps an update or revision of the show could have seen it carry on for longer, or maybe it has simply just run its course, 18 years is nothing to sniff at after all, and the cast pull out all the stops to give you one more blast from the past before they finally lay it to Rock In Peace.

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