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Rock of Ages at New Wimbedon Theatre | Review

 ROCK OF AGES. Lucas Rush 'Lonny'. Photo Richard Davenport.
ROCK OF AGES. Lucas Rush ‘Lonny’. Photo Richard Davenport.

There are various elements that have to be in place to make a jukebox musical successful. No. 1, some great music, No. 2, a simple story that fits the music and No 3. a really strong cast to deliver the story and music. Based on those criteria, its no wonder Rock of Ages has been a hit, and I was lucky enough to catch the show as it touched down at the New Wimbledon Theatre as part of its current UK tour.

According to our narrator Lonny (Lucas Rush), Sunset Strip in 1987 is the place to be if you are looking for a good time and a chance of success. Of course, then as now, the odds were against you, but that doesn’t deter aspiring rocker Drew (Luke Walsh). Although currently working at The Bourbon Room, owned by an old rocker by the name of Dennis Dupree (Kevin Kennedy), Drew has his dream and knows that one day he is going to make it. That dream of fame also burns in the heart of Sherrie Christian (Jodie Steele), recently arrived in Hollywood from Paola, Kansas, hoping to make it big in acting. While she waits for her break, Sherrie also starts work in The Bourbon Room and makes an instant and very favourable impression on Drew.

However, everyone’s dreams may be about to hit the buffers as a pair of German property developers, Hertz Klinemann (Vas Constanti) and his son Franz (Andrew Carthy) – using some rather underhanded techniques – persuade the city’s mayor to abandon the “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” lifestyle of the Sunset Strip and introduce “clean living” into the area, much to the anger of the City Planner, Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman) who quits her job and vows to stop the decimation of the strip. With so much going on, it only needs the addition of arrogant rock star Stacee Jaxx (Kevin Clifton) and his band Arsenal and the owner of the local “gentlemen’s club” Justice Charlier (Zoe Birkett) to go into the mix and Sunset Strip, its inhabitants and the whole world will never know what’s hit them.

When looking for rock songs to put into a musical, writer Chris D’arienzo was definitely spoiled for choice and has chosen around thirty fantastic tunes to weave around his story of love, dreams and the search for something in 1980s Los Angeles. The story itself is actually pretty good. Romance, misunderstanding, property developers, tarts with hearts, fighting the ‘man’, redemption, its all in there over the around two and a half hour run. And the music is just brilliant. So many songs I knew and loved nicely slotted into parts of the story to add something special to the narrative. One or two felt a little shoehorned in, but that can be forgiven because the music – all played and sung live under the keyboards of Musical Director Liam Holmes – is so good.

Designer Morgan Large hits the right note with the set and costumes, really recreating the feel of a rock bar that’s a little bit run down but where you know you will have a good time. Though I have to say, I personally would not have used to the gents toilet to urinate in let alone have sex in the cubicle – maybe I’ve got fussy in my old age. Virtually everything in Nick Winston’s direction and choreography comes together really well, and the show is really played for laughs. On the whole, this is fine but there are a couple of points, during the meeting at the railway station, where, I felt, the comedy, was unnecessary and detracted from the moment and the song being performed.

ROCK OF AGES. Kevin Kennedy 'Dennis'. Photo Richard Davenport.
ROCK OF AGES. Kevin Kennedy ‘Dennis’. Photo Richard Davenport.

Full credit to the cast, especially Lucas Rush who as the show’s narrator or “dramatic conjurer” spends a lot of time breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience. Lucas does this in fine style and, I don’t know if it was scripted or not, I particularly liked his comments to use about the movie. I also thought the end of the first act – complete with a ‘for dummies’ book – was brilliantly done. Jodie and Luke, as Sherrie and Drew, were just lovely as the wide-eyed kids who had come to LA to make their fortune and no matter what weren’t backing down from the dream. They also looked and acted nicely together as a couple of ‘friends’ on the verge of so much more. And finally, Kevin Kennedy. Not only is he a fine person as he shares his birthday with mine but, at 57 years of age can still rock like a rampant teenager. Marvelous performance. And that really sums up all the cast. They made the amazing songs come alive once more, and the whole of the theatre really rocked with their musical performances.

With Rock of Ages you are guaranteed to get a great night out. I loved the music, staging and performances and anyone that is a fan of good 1980s rock music is not going to leave the theatre disappointed. Rock of Ages is fun, enjoyable and uplifting. With a great score and excellent performers, what more could you need?

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Rock of Ages is an LA love story lavished with over 25 classic rock anthems. Lose yourself in a city and a time where the dreams are as big as the hair, and yes, they can come true! This hilarious musical comedy will have you singing and laughing along with its epic songs played loud and proud by an awesome live band.

Now a global smash with hit seasons on Broadway, London’s West End and Las Vegas and a star-studded Hollywood movie version, we promise you the biggest party in town!

Warning: contains serious rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.
(Age Suitability 14+)

New Wimbledon Theatre
Booking to 2nd March 2019

New Oxford Theatre
19th-23rd March 2019

Bristol Hippodrome Theatre
16th-20th April 2019

Grand Opera House York
23rd-27th April 2019

Edinburgh Playhouse
30th April-4th May 2019

New Victoria Theatre
21st-25th May 2019

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