Rock of Ages

Shaftesbury Theatre


Generally speaking I consider musicals to be pretty ridonkulous. If I want to listen to music, I’ll put on some music. If I want narrative I’ll read a book or watch TV/a movie. I don’t really want the two mixing. Oh the emotion, oh the drama, oh the angst, the pathos. I know, let’s share the deepest workings of our souls by bursting into song… Nope, you lost me there. Not for me, thanks. And no, I didn’t think ‘Once More with Feeling’ was all that either.

That said, Rock of Ages is absolutely fucking brilliant. It’s funny, scurrilous, stupid, big-hearted, ridiculous, puerile, sweet, juvenile, awesome (dude!) and surprisingly smart all at the same time. Sorta like hard rock in the 80’s. Whoulda thunk?

The amount of enjoyment Rock of Ages gives you will depend on several things:

1) How much you like eighties hair metal* (and no, liking ‘Glee’s’ version of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ doesn’t count).

2) How much tolerance you have for rude jokes about, amongst other things, tea-bagging baby llamas and table tennis (way ruder than that makes it sound. Google ‘Mitzi Dupree’. Deep Purple wrote a song about her).

3) How much knowledge of the hard rock culture you have: a number of jokes/references roared over the heads of much of the audience like a Red Arrows fly-past, a large portion of whom appeared old enough to have been disapproving of the music the first time out. I guess there are people who will go and see things because it’s a musical.**

4) Whether or not you like smart ass and meta jokes. Sorry, would’ve made a meta-textual joke there, but I got nothing right now.***

5) A willingness to sit through the absolute torture of attractive young women in heels, stockings and suspenders bumping and grinding as if they were in a Mhuhtlee Crooo video set in a strip club. A lot. The hussies.

Holy crap! For all my protestations about musicals, looks like I’m the one their focus groups pointed to for demographics. *Shrug*

There are two main plot strands: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love beneath a moon that explodes for no adequately explained reason, boy plays the friend card. Girl shags passing rock star because boy played said card – melodrama ensues. There’s also some stuff about the Germans wanting to bulldoze the Strip including the legendary Bourbon Room bar where our boy and girl meet and work, and the fight to save it.

It doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the songs (many of which are great), the cultural references and the laughs. There are neat moments of expectation subversion, appropriate use of jazz hands, and the understanding that when you play a guitar solo you need to be in a suitably rock pose in the spot-light with big fans blowing your hair back (insert overweight groupie joke here).

For all the rudeness, Rock of Ages is actually a rather sweet tale and the overall message is that dreams can change you just have to be smart enough to notice. In this case, amor vincit omnia, no matter what form it takes. Even man-llama love.

High points – the melding of songs is often very clever, the cast are impressive – Ross Hunter (Drew) absolutely nails the Coverdale high-notes,  Tim Howar is pitch perfect as swaggering camelid-botherer Stacee Jaxx and Natalie Andreou is winsome, sexy and funny as Sherri. Absolute star, though is Simon Lipkin’s Lonnie, the crass, dim-witted, fourth-wall breaking narrator who manages to nab most of the best lines (and ad-libs) for himself. There are also some fab little touches – like screens flashing up messages like ‘MORE COWBELL’ and ‘METAL ENDING’, and period observations and throwaway references (Axel F. and the vocal warblings and over-emoting of soul divas). House band ‘Arsenal’ also kick seriously large amounts of butt.

There are a few minor flaws – cut guitar solos (boo!), song choice wasn’t entirely optimal – although that could be rights issues or of course my personal taste, there’s some over/under representation of acts on the playlist, whilst there are also some surprising omissions (again, possibly rights related). The second act is a little ballad heavy. These are minor nit-picks, though.

So, overall one of the best evening’s entertainment I’ve had in, well, forever. The ridiculous nature of musicals actually works in its favour. Whilst Rock of Ages hasn’t sold me on the concept of musicals per se, I will now admit they can be awesome. Ludicrously good fun.

*Yeah, I know, I know. That sort of music sucks. Sure it does. So how come you know all the words? \m/

** Which is actually rather lovely – there were two younger Muslim lassies, an Asian matriarch with husband, and an elderly black woman a couple of rows in front, all of whom seemed to be having a fab time. Metal and knob jokes for the win…

***Also turning ‘Here I Go Again’ (On My Own) into an ensemble piece can be seen as a) stupid b) stupendously ironic or c) a really clever commentary on the alienation inherent in modern life. Possibly all three. And check out the lyrics to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’. They are the Drew/Sherrie story, after all, she’s a Small Town Girl and he’s a boy from Detroit (Rock City).

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