This isn’t the first production to go down the road of referencing a one-star review of their show (from a different publication, I hasten to add). This sort of tactic sometimes works, like the show that apparently sold tickets having publicised itself as the worst show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – quite a claim, given there were, pre-pandemic, in excess of 3,000 productions for patrons to choose from. As far as Rock of Ages goes, I can understand why some really won’t like it: the female characters are largely objectified. Sherrie Christian (Rhiannon Chesterman) shows off her (ahem) assets by bending down to pick something up whilst wearing short shorts, prompting Dennis Dupree (Ross Dawes), the owner of The Bourbon Room, a Hollywood bar, to agree to give her a job.
The same woman later has a door slammed in her face by the absurdly named rock star Stacee Jaxx (Kevin Clifton), lead singer for a band called Arsenal (nothing to do with the Premier League). A different woman is simply told, unprovoked, to “shut up”, just so a man can continue his conversation with another man. One need not be a feminist to raise one’s eyebrows at all this ill-treatment. I hesitate to decisively conclude that it overshadows any enjoyment of the show, if only because a lot of the women in the audience, or at least those in reasonably close proximity to yours truly, seemed to enjoy proceedings.
It is, in the end, not a production to take itself too seriously. Lonny Barnett (Joe Gash), the show’s narrator, breaches the fourth wall on occasion (let’s just say it’s a case of sitting on the front row of the stalls at one’s own risk). For a jukebox musical, the storyline isn’t the worst out there. Regina (Gabriella Williams), leads protests against a plan by European developer Hertz Klinemann (Vas Constanti) to demolish a number of entertainment venues on ‘The Sunset Strip’ and replace them with luxury apartments. Elsewhere, the difference between love and lust is explored, as is the sheer reality of people in the entertainment industry hustling between gigs/contracts – up and coming star Drew Boley (Luke Walsh, who wows the audience with an Extremely Long and Loud Note at the end of a song) is seen in the first half working in a bar, and in the second as a pizza delivery driver.
The show is a team effort. Every show is, of course, but this one doesn’t rely too much on one or two leads to take on the majority of musical numbers. The end result is that ‘everyone’ gets their turn, which is good to see, although conversely there’s an unshakeable feeling that neither Stacee Jaxx nor Drew Boley (the guitarist for a band called Wolfgang Von Colt) are given enough stage time. That said, the live band, directed by Liam Holmes, glide through the twenty-three musical numbers with style and confidence.
Jenny Fitzpatrick’s Justice really ought to have had more than a few lines to sing, though the manner in which she performed so brilliantly only proves there is, in some respects, no such thing as a ‘small’ part. Overall, however, while the show was technically splendid – I can’t fault the cast or the set, lighting and sound – I struggled somewhat to maintain interest in a rock show that could have been more than a little bit louder. Some of the tunes are utter belters, but the energy emanating from the stage wasn’t as infectious as it could have been.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Strictly winner Kevin Clifton (Singin’ in the Rain) who thrilled audiences as rock star ‘Stacee Jaxx’ on tour in 2019 goes back to the ‘Bourbon Room’ when he plays alongside Luke Walsh (lead role ‘Drew’ Rock of Ages 2018/19 Tour), Rhiannon Chesterman (Mrs Henderson Presents), Ross Dawes (Phantom of the Opera), Gabriella Williams (MAMMA MIA!), Jenny Fitzpatrick (Tina The Musical), returning favourites Vas Constanti, Andrew Carthy, Erin Bell and new talent Joe Gash as ‘Lonny’ in the ultimate ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll musical.
Rock of Ages is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 21st September, 2021 to Saturday 25th September, 2021.