Who doesn't love a jukebox musical? Many people, as it turns out. I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't write them all off automatically. Rock of Ages is a musical that is often brought up in conversations when you mention a jukebox musical - as it turns out, it's a bit of a Marmite show with people who love it while others hate it. Unbelievably, I had never seen it before - I'd not even seen the 2012 movie adaptation (for which I'm thankful) so I went in to the show completely blind. Would this be a jukebox musical I love like &Juliet... or would it be another Viva Forever?
Currently on a UK tour, Rock of Ages tells the story of a bar being threatened with closure while its employees try to embark on their dreams.. The plot may be paper thin but who needs a plot anyway? What you get with Rock of Ages is a show that doesn't take itself seriously - if its mission is to put a smile on the audiences face, it's mission accomplished here (unlike the Tom Cruise led movie which was mission impossible).
Regularly breaking the fourth wall, to the extent where two characters have a conversation about the fact they are in a musical, even calling out a well known theatre website for their 1 star review (Spoiler alert: They won't need to call me out for a 1 star review in the future). It also features bucketloads of audience interaction - tonight at the expense of a lady called Lizzie - never sit in the front row, folks. It's a recipe for disaster!
For this tour, a stellar cast has been assembled. Fresh from appearing in Singin' In The Rain, Kevin Clifton stars as Stacee Jaxx in what is a small but mighty role. Clifton is proving to be a sensation when it comes to musical theatre, impressing with his vocal abilities, charisma and, of course, his moves. Whenever he graces the stage, all eyes are on him.
Luke Walsh and Rhiannon Chesterman get the obligatory love story as Drew and Sherrie, with both getting moments to shine vocally. Jenny Fitzpatrick shows off her outstanding vocals in one of the highlights of the show as Justice, though her role is criminally underused. Andrew Carthy is hilarious as "European" Franz. While some of the attitudes may feel slightly outdated, it's all done very tongue in cheek - and this is the 1980s after all. Gabriella Williams sets the stage on fire in a comic turn as Regina, Vas Constanti is the closest thing we get to a villain as Hertz, while Ross Dawes is fabulous as bar owner Dennis Dupree.
The true star of the show has to be Joe Gash as Lonny - bouncing around the stage with exaggerated flamboyance, he has the audience eating out of the palm of his hands. Whether he is pushing forward with the narrative, breaking the fourth wall repeatedly or demonstrating a quite frankly ridiculously incredible voice, he gives an overstated but wildly deserved performance.
People come to Rock of Ages for the songs, and they certainly don't disappoint. A soundtrack of 80s songs shoehorned in to push the narrative along - for what it is, it's quite clever - just lose yourself in the escapism. Iconic numbers from the likes of Bon Jovi, Starship and Foreigner are just some of the many crowdpleasers that ensure the audience is rocking out with the cast, particularly with act 1 closer 'Here I Go Again' by Whitesnake. A group performance of 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' in Act 2 provided the standout performance of the night, giving a rare glimpse of emotion in what is otherwise a relatively carefree show.
Fantastic staging effortlessly transforming the set from a bar to a rock show. and stunning choreography from Nick Winston makes this a very slick production. Unashamedly stupid but laugh out loud funny, this really is the perfect show to get you away from the mundane and monotony of life. Don't go in there expecting your life to be changed, but if you're looking for nothin' but a good time, Rock of Ages delivers in spades.
Rock of Ages plays at Wimbledon until Saturday 25th September. It continues rocking out around the UK until September 2022. For dates and tickets, see https://www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk/
Photos by Richard Davenport