When you think about glam rock a lot of people associate it with cheesy songs, imbedded with some nostalgia. And yet, the musical Rock of Ages has turned this on its head and paid tribute to some of the most-loved 80s anthems in its latest touring production.
Rock of Ages is all very ‘follow your dreams’ sparked from a typical 80s love story, entwinned with a mission to save the Bourbon Room music venue – the last pillar or authentic rock left on L.A’s Sunset Strip – from money-driven developers. It’s a simple story for sure, but the messages have been able to remain relevant, almost critical, to today’s social climate with its economic uncertainty, closure of independent music venues (The Cellar, Oxford), and Brexit divides (to name a few). So, it was great to see a show that overshadowed my British negativity with a message of perseverance, and guilty ‘listen to your heart’ ethos, to rile up some activism and dream-chasing resulting in a predictable, yet annoyingly uplifting, finale brought home by Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’.
The production as a whole is highly aware of itself, turning moments that could overdose on corny one-liners into witty self-references that aid Rock of Ages’ mature humour – enabling itself to make jabs at the movie rendition and ultimately outshine it. The latter was also tremendously reinforced by the show’s debaucherous narrator, and mother hen meets camp compere, Lucas Rush (Lonny) with his unmistakable charm and show-stealing capabilities.
It goes without saying that in comparison the film is a mere commodity which shoved relatively well-known faces into their unnatural environment of a musical. The stage show, however, put the cast exactly where they were meant to be, from the powerful vocal quality of Luke Walsh (Drew) and sexy soulfulness of Zoe Birkett (Justice), to the larger than life Rhiannon Chesterman (Regina) and Sandra Dee-esque Jodie Steele (Sherrie).
Needless to say, musically the live band were levelled perfectly to compliment the show-stopping vocals of the cast – the electric riffs and Broadway-worthy pipes struck the perfect chords with much-loved metal rock classics including Poison’s ‘Every Rose has its Thorn’, Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ and Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’.
Pretty rude, crude and semi-nude is one of the best ways to probably describe the nature of Rock of Ages – with boobs, butt cheeks and ‘blow jobs’ for days. So, given the glam rock and extroverted nature of the era this is to be expected, but in some cases perhaps over-used. This depiction of the Sunset Strip in the rock ‘n’ roll era of the 80s wouldn’t be a far off stretch, I’m sure, but after a few more visits to the Bourbon Room’s neighbouring strip club the show almost became stretched thin on ‘sex sells’ – almost irrelevant to the storyline. But hey, the 80s’s am I right?
Faults there certainly were, but the production was not short of tight outfits, electric energy and show-stopping musical performances. Rock of Ages may not be narratively ground-breaking, but it reminded me that there’s something simply joyous to be gained from going to see a feel-good and heart-felt show.