Review: Rock Of Ages

Posted by Matt Bourne on 05:42 with No comments
Rock of Ages

There has been much said about the rise of the 'Jukebox Musical' recently (A Jukebox Musical, is a musical that uses previously released popular songs that get licensed for that particular show), some good and some bad, but whatever your view, it's all about to change with the latest show to hit London's West End, Rock of Ages.

The story is set in the mid 80's in sunset strip where an aspiring rocker Drew (Oliver Tompsett) is working in The Bourbon Club on sunset strip, when aspiring actress Sherrie (The delectable Natalie Andreou) arrives in town looking for work and failing at getting auditions, walks in and Drew is smitten.  However property developer Hertz (Rohan Tickell) and his son Franz (Sandy Moffatt) arrive with plans to demolish the strip and build a brand new shopping mall.  Owner of the Bourbon Club, Dennis (Justin Lee Collins) decides to put on one last gig for the mega rock band du jour 'Arsenal' whose lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Shayne Ward) is about to leave to pursue a solo career.  They all collide in the Bourbon Club and before all is said and done, there will be love, loss, laughter and tears, but most of all plenty of ROCK!

Rock of Ages is a breath of fresh air around the theatre scene which up until now has been filled with your traditional, but flashy effects laden shows.  Rock of Ages comes along and kicks the doors in and presents nothing but a good time.  For all of those who were around for the big hair/cock rock era of the 80's will derive the most pleasure from this show.  From the moment you walk into the theatre, the ushers are bedecked with 80's denim jackets, big hair and (free) LED lighters for the upcoming ballad numbers (More of this later).  The theatre set itself is decorated in a typical 80's style with banners and flyers stuck to walls.  As you sit down your ear drums are greeted with 80's rock classics such as Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), Cherry Pie (Warrant) among many others.  The thing to note though upon looking around the auditorium is that the ushers and public alike are singing along and having a great time before anyone has even hit the stage.

Now once the show begins you usually expect the overture, general slow build up, introduction of the main signature tunes & themes building up to the crescendo of the end of the first act before reprising most of it in the second half building up to that one big number at the end.  Someone obviously forgot to tell the makers of Rock of Ages the rules then... From the moment the first power chord hits, you know you are in for a wild ride.  Featuring songs by Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister et al, this is not for the feint hearted.  Before the first few songs have ended, you'll be air guitaring in the aisles!  The 80's era is perfectly replicated (Despite some of the cast being too young to probably remember it) with all the excess that fit the era.  By that we mean this isn't what you would call a family show, it's the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle on display here!

So to the cast.  Much has been put in the headline stars of former X-Factor winner Shayne Ward as Vince Neill (Motley Crue) & Sebastian Bach (Skid Row) hybrid Stacee Jaxx, although it should be noted Shayne is somewhat of a dead ringer for Poisons Brett Michaels and vocally isn’t too far away either, and Justin Lee Collins.  While these two take the top billing, they actually just form the solid foundations for the rest of the cast who are out of this world good.  Oliver Tompsett as Drew has some of the best and most powerful vocals you will hear around the West End Theatres at the moment, he exudes real charisma and charm, whether it is him belting out a huge rock number or the subtlety of a power ballad (And this reviews favourite songs) such as Warrant's (RIP Jani Lane) Heaven/Extreme's More Than Words/Mr. Big's To Be With You medley.  Then the delightful Natalie Andreou as Sherrie is astounding, she combines the sexy sass and leading lady charms that will beguile any of the red blooded male members of the audience into a standing ovation every time she sings.  However the night and indeed the show belongs to Simon Lipkin as Lonny the narrator, who simply owns the stage whether it be with a tune or his comic asides, which on the night this reviewer was in attendance brought the house down, especially when ad libbing on an unsuspecting Oliver Tompsett.  Mr. Lipkin was brilliant as Trekkie monster in Avenue Q, but here tops that performance and deserves to get all the credit and a headline spot before too soon.  Simon Lipkin is worth the price of admission alone.  This guy is so good, he could probably just turn up in a dustbin liner and wander around the stage for an hour and still be brilliant.  Lipkin gets 5 stars for his performance alone.  Of the rest of the cast other standout notables have to be Rachel McFarlane as Justice (Strip club owner/madam) who belts out a version of Poisons Every Rose better than it was originally produced and that's saying something.  Sandy Moffatts Franz gets a lot of the big laughs too.  But this show is so enjoyable that even the ensemble standout and have you reaching for the programme to find out whom they are (Zizi Strallen get a special mention here... Wow).  Finally it would be unfair to not mention Jodie Jacobs as Regina, who possibly gets the best song in Twisted Sister's Were Not Gonna Take It, which is not an easy song to do with a female vocal at the best of times, but she pulls it off with aplomb.  Rohan Tickell as the pantomime villain is great, although he only really gets one song to shine with, he takes his moment.

But what of Shayne Ward and Justin Lee Collins I hear you cry?  Well, of course it goes without saying that they are worth every (Probably expensive) penny that the production paid for them.  Shayne pulls off Stacee Jaxx effortlessly and has a wonderful wig to boot.  His Wanted Dead or Alive Brings the house down as his arrival on stage couldn't be any better.  Justin Lee Collins is as you would expect great fun, but he especially rises to the occasion whenever he is on stage with Simon Lipkin, in fact their smoke machine moment was another moment of the evening’s ad libbed brilliance (Kiss Him!).  It's hard to imagine anyone else in these roles as they are totally owned by each of the performers and that’s a very rare thing to see in Theatre these days.

There simply is nothing negative to say about this show, it is in a word flawless.  Audience participation with the LED lighters is great fun as well, even the raucous crowd are encouraged as it feels like you are in the front row of a 80's rock concert for the most part (Pick your favourite band), they only break you get is in the interval before you get your head completely rocked off in the second act.  As you know on Screen One we give reviews out of 5, but for Rock of Ages (Or should that be Rock for the Ages?) we're cranking it all the way up to 10!!  Simply Brilliant.  RAWK ON!!!!!

Matt Bourne