REVIEW: ROCK OF AGES (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★

Global smash Rock Of Ages has had wonderful success since its first production in Los Angeles in 2005. The 80’s glam metal jukebox musical features songs from bands including Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe among others, set to an 80’s love story of new girl in town meets young rocker and falls in love. The show has had multiple productions mounted including on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Las Vegas, Seoul, Toronto, Melbourne, Manila, Buenos Aries, a two year long run in London’s West End at the Shaftesbury and Garrick Theatre’s, a highly successful UK tour of that production and a major motion picture featuring a starry Hollywood cast. A new production celebrating the show’s 10th Anniversary is currently touring the UK and stops at the New Wimbledon Theatre giving audiences once again have the chance to rock out and have their faces melted.

It’s the tail end of the big bad 80’s in Hollywood and the party has been raging hard. Aqua Net, Lycra, lace and booze flow freely at one of the Sunset Strip’s last legendary venues, a place where sex machine Stacee Jaxx takes the stage and scantily clad groupies line up to turn their fantasies into reality. Amidst the madness, aspiring rock star (and resident toilet cleaner) Drew, longs to take the stage as the next big thing. On his road to stardom he meets small-town girl Sherri, fresh off the bus from Kansas with stars in her eyes and the couple fall hard for each other. But the rock and roll fairytale is about to end when German developers sweep into town with plans to turn the fabled Strip into just another capitalist strip mall. Can Drew, Sherri and the gang save the strip and themselves before it’s too late? Only the glamorous metal hits of the 80’s hold the answer!

Fresh out of her run as ‘Heather Chandler’ in West End smash Heathers The Musical, Jodie Steele returns to ‘that scrunchie life’ in character ‘Sherrie’. As aspiring actress ‘Sherrie’, Steele is exceptional and displays her incredible vocal talent belting out the hits in the show. As ‘Drew’, Luke Walsh really shines. An incredibly hard sing for any male vocalist, Walsh gives his all and makes the 80’s rock driven score look and sound easy. As ‘Lonny’, Lucas Rush is perfectly cast as the narrator come self-referential parody. Drawing on audience interaction and participation, Rush expertly guides the audience through the show, drawing them into the gritty 80’s setting with his accomplished vocal and hilarious comedic abilities. Kevin Kennedy as bar owner ‘Dennis’ was a fun addition to the cast and the audience enjoyed his performance immensely. Kevin Clifton as ‘Stacee Jaxx’, is every bit the quintessential in-excess rockstar and villain the story needs. His vocal ability able to handle hit Dead Or Alive with ease and his presence onstage a crowd pleaser from start to finish. Serving attitude as ‘Justice’, Zoe Birkett is simply exquisite and her vocal prowess often steals the show. Every moment ‘Justice’ is onstage is a highlight and her Every Rose Has Its Thorn was a beautifully reserved moment amongst the face paced action of the show. Andrew Carthy as ‘Franz’ was so much fun. Carthy’s comedic timing and impressive vocal ability bringing a fresh exuberance to the young German confectionary shop owner, out of his depth in LA. His rendition of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot was an immediate audience favourite and his relationship with ‘Regina’ a hilariously confusing union. As activist ‘Regina’, Rhiannon Chesterman gives an impressive turn. Her vocal on Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It showing a powerful belt and she has the vocal dexterity to rival any on the West End stage.

An an ensemble, the cast were phenomenal, had incredible voices and were in a league of their own. However, the same cannot be said for the overall production. Presented on a concert style set made out of speakers and scaffolding, the director seemed to throw everything at each scene at once. Unnecessary simulated sexual acts, awkward gay moments between embarrassed men, dildos, rides on kiddy cars and anything within the show that could be made sexual- was. For me, the production came across like a hen’s night gone to seed where Carol has drank far too much. While there is sending up a show in an affectionate way, this production took it too far losing any subtlety or surprise and in turn the integrity of the show. Extreme objectification resulted in the production feel like it was directed by a horny teenager and everything that could be, was turned into a gag. Gagging, I was not.

While there’s no denying the cast were all excellent and you can’t but not have a good time tapping along to the hit songs, Rock of Ages at the New Wimbledon Theatre suffered from a cacophony of ideas and gimmicks that seemed to be thrown at the production subtracting from the story, the characters and the rightful celebration of the incredibly fun music in the show.

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Richard Davenport

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