ROCK OF AGES
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 10th September, 2021
There aren’t many jukebox musicals that can entice me back for a second viewing, but when I was invited to see this one, I jumped at the chance, remembering how much of a good time I’d had first time round.
Set in 1987-ish in a bar on LA’s famous Sunset Strip, the show tells the story of rock star-cross’d lovers, Sherrie and Drew. She’s a small-town girl with dreams of making it as an actor; he’s a boy with a guitar and a voice to die for, with his sights set on playing the stadiums. As Sherrie, Rhiannon Chesterman is in excellent form, with a strong, expressive voice and a likeable presence. Returning to the role of Drew, Luke Walsh again impresses with his singing; his voice soaring above everything else. It’s a treat to hear him once more.
Ross Dawes brings a gruff warmth and skilful comic business to his role as bar owner Dennis Dupree, while Vas Constanti and Andrew Carthy make welcome returns as the scheming German property developers bent on demolishing the neighbourhood. The characterisations are comic-book. In fact, the entire production has more than a whiff of adult panto to it, and that’s a good thing, in this instance. What I enjoy most is the silliness, the cheeky breaking of the fourth wall. This is a show that doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s all the better for it.
Gabriella Williams makes her mark as Regina, protesting the redevelopment and falling for Andrew Carthy’s Franz, but it’s Jenny Fitzpatrick’s Justice who stops the show with her astonishing vocals.
Strictly’s Kevin Clifton gets a chance to display his singing and his talent for broad comedy as opposed to his dancing and gives a thoroughly enjoyable portrayal of the egotistic rock star Stacee Jaxx. But for me, the show belongs to Joe Gash as the camptastic, charismatic and mischievous Lonny, the narrator of the piece, prancing around like the lovechild of Jack Sparrow and Russell Brand. Gash is a delight, with a powerful voice and a quick wit he uses to handle any hecklers.
There is stonking support from a chorus of superlative singers and dancers. The ensemble arrangement of Poison’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn is just lovely, among a set list of numbers that are mainly anthemic power ballads or hand-clapping standards, like Don’t Stop Believing and Keep On Loving You. Lonny and Dennis’s duet, I Can’t Fight The Feeling Anymore, is a highlight among many hilarious moments.
The onstage band, led by Liam Holmes, is flawless, making the old, familiar songs irresistible. Of course, we’re all up on our feet before the end, rocking our socks off. There is a party atmosphere from start to finish in a production brimming over with talent and loaded with laughs.
A funny, feelgood show that doesn’t wallow in nostalgia but reminds us there were so many great songs back then. And it’s especially gratifying to hear a song by local band Slade!
Is it crass? Yes!
Is it entertaining? YES!
Would I see it a third time?
In a heartbeat!