Brash, loud and rocking good fun

picture of the cast of Rock of Ages behind Drew and Sherrie

Rock of Ages

New Alexandra Theatre

****

ITS brash, loud, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and that is pretty much all you need to know – and did I mention it is great fun?

This is a show that manages to send its audience home filled by a feel good factor . . .  and temporary deafness, that slightly ringing in the ears muffled  deafness you get as you walk out of stadium shows driven by zillion watt speakers.

It is a show that takes you back to your youth, mine being even further back than the show’s 1987 setting, having seen The Who with mad as a hatter Keith Moon on drums, and the Rolling Stones when they didn’t have bus passes as well as booking both the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Brian Auger and the Trinity with Julie Driscoll in my student ents days.

Rock of Ages stripped of its mix of glam rock and heavy metal is a jukebox musical, although in this case the jukebox is probably in a bar frequented by bikers.

It has a boy meets girl storyline which could be written on the back of a fag packet, lots of suggestive moves and comments, and even more rock tracks from the 70s and 80s, including Cum on Feel The Noize by the West Midland’s own Slade.

Hear’Say’s Noel Sullivan is Drew, wannabe rock star working in The Bourbon Bar of Denis Dupree, played by the excellent Daniel Fletcher, who played the role in the West End

Sullivan, whose impressive stage CV makes him much more than merely a member of a manufactured pop group, shines with a good rock voice and some huge lung power as he wins, loses, wins, loses (and on for the next two hours) the heart of wannabe actress Sherrie, played by Cordelia Farnworth who won an understudy of the year award for covering the role in the West End production. It is easy to see why. picture of Noel Sullivan as rock star wannabe DrewShe has a lovely voice and is a nice mover as she descends from a waitress with dreams to stripper and lap dancer and back again.

As with all jukebox musicals the urge to cram in as many numbers as possible – there are 30 music credits in the programme – means you rarely if ever get a full song, which is a pity as both Sullivan and Farnworth have good voices which was shown by Farnworth’s singing of Extreme’s lovely acoustic love song More Than Words mixed with Warrant’s Heaven sung by Sullivan and their duet on Foreigner’s Waiting for Girl Like You. Their voices blended well which is not always the case in duets.

Into the mix we have the arrogant rock god Stacee Jaxx, front man for fictional supergroup Arsenal, played by West End regular Ben Richards.

Richards , who was also Bruno in Footballer’s’ Wives, is another with a good voice for rock and gives us an over the top performance as the god’s gift to women rock star adored by girls, despised by blokes and positively hated by his band particularly when he dumped them to strike out, unsuccessfully, on a solo career.

Noel Sullivan as rock star wannabe Drew

The soundman for the club, and the narrator, as he has to remind Drew, is Lonny, played by Stephen Rahman-Hughes, who has a musical theatre background but can turn his hand to rock and comedy without blinking an eyelid.

One of the beauties of the show is that it does not take itself too seriously and Lonny is happy to talk to the audience and we even have a scene when to cheer up a despondent Drew who fears he has lost Sherrie (again) by telling him it is just a script and he has no need to follow it, so go and get her.

We know it is all in the script, but this is a rock show, so we like a bit of rebellion, even rehearsed rebellion.

The backstory sees German developer Hertz Klinemann and his son Franz, played by Jack Lord and Cameron Sharp, showing a nice sense of fun, as they try to rip down Sunset Strip including the Bourbon after paying off the mayor, Rakesh Boury, until they are challenged by Los Angeles city planner and career hippy Regina, played by Jessie May.

And Jessie helps dreams come true with Hertz and Franz seeing the light and following theirs as we rock into a happy ending.

There is plenty of satire and send up of the affectations of rock and pop, and good support from a hard working ensemble who danced and sang their way through the show.

But none of it would have happened without a wonderful band under musical director Pierce Tee on keyboards. Ashley Williams is a mean lead guitarist while Andy Gammon give us a solid rhythm, more important than many people think, and some sensitive acoustic work with Bary Liedeman and Alex Marchinson providing pulsating bass and drums respectively.

Sound was a bit woolly at the start, not uncommon in a new theatre where initial sound check settings can be way out on opening night with a full auditorium, but it settled down as the show went on and despite being rock show loud, the sound was never distorted, which is a credit to Peter Hylenski’s sound design. Lighting from Jason Lyons was slick and Beowulf (what a great name) Boritt produced a brilliant set design from the video screen, shaped a little like a huge church window, at the rear of the stage to the section of wall that opened out to give us the club gents, an office for Venus strip club madame Justice Charlier, whose dream was to be a soul singer, played by Rachel MacFarlane, the mayor’s office and any other scene needed.

Director Kristin Hanggi keeps up a good pace in what is a fun, tongue-in-cheek show which rocks on to 17-05-14.

Roger Clarke

12-05-14

Contents page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre