REVIEW: Rock of Ages (Sunderland Empire) ★★★

Rock of Ages arrives into Sunderland, bringing with it power ballads and big hair as we move into Los Angeles in the 1980’s.

Essentially a love story, in fact many love stories, and a ‘will they or won’t they’ ending. It is actually quite a sleazy show – and not in a good way. Did the skirts and shorts need to be so short? Did we really need to see so much bare bottom (obviously female bare bottom – we are talking sexist sleaze here!)

Small town girl Sherri (Jodie Steele) moves to LA to be an actress, gets mugged within minutes of arriving and is rescued by Drew (Luke Walsh) a bar man at the Bourbon Room. Owner Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) gives Sherri a job and romance blossoms between Sherri and Drew until Stacee Jaxx (Kevin Clifton) arrives and ends the budding love.

Over in the Mayor’s Office, planning officer Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman) is opposed to a plan by German father and son Hertz (Vas Constanti) and Franz (Andrew Carthy – who has one of the best lines in the whole show “I’m not gay – I’m just German) to knock down Sunset Strip and the Bourbon Room and replace it with clean affordable living and a Foot Locker.

Over at the Venus “Gentleman’s” Club, Justice (Zoe Birkett) is in charge of the working girls, with 2 for 1 lap dances and even more bare flesh on display.

There are aspects of the show that save it – Lonny (Lucas Rush) is brilliant, breaking the fourth wall constantly in his role of narrator. Flirting shamelessly with the audience, his almost constant presence on stage shows how he knows exactly his characterisation, the comedy aspect and how to successfully work an audience. Zoe Birkett proves just how outstanding a performer she is with her incredibly powerful vocals and manages to be the only female performer in the show to stay fully dressed at all times. Special mention to Sinead Kenny who plays Waitress #1 (not even a proper character name) who had an outstanding singing voice, which was a joy to hear.

I loved the music, the live band (Liam Holmes, Drew Lowe, Marc Le Guerranic, Elliot Mason and Vito Guerrieri) were present on stage for most of the night and played like Gods. But the entire show could be toned down to be much less gratuitously sordid and a lot more entertaining.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay
Photo: The Other Richard

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