A young girl escapes to LA, full of dreams about becoming an actress. She quickly runs into a boy, working in a seedy club, who yearns to be a rock star. See if you can guess what happens next…
Hardly original, Rock of Ages conjurs up a curious mixture of feelings. While the show is undoubtedly enjoyable, that is largely in spite of the majority of the cast.
Like a late 90s romantic comedy proudly emblazoning Jennifer Aniston on its promotional material even though she only appears for half a minute, if you were to believe the posters for Rock of Ages, you would think that Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward were the lynchpins of the show. Thankfully, you’d be wrong. Neither man has a particularly large part, and while Justin Lee Collins is passable, Shayne Ward sets a new benchmark in misguided celebrity casting. His singing is atrocious; his acting non-existent.
But… there is something about him. Despite being as at home on the stage as a kitten in a microwave, he is undeniably watchable. With training and a few years of stage experience under his belt, he could be very good, but at present, he is little more than a cheap device employed to attract X Factor fans to the Shaftesbury.
There are a handful of the cast who raise the standards, chief among them is Simon Lipkin as Lonny, the one thing holding the show together. A narrator who gleefully smashes the fourth wall, Lipkin proves once again that he is a superb comic actor without equal in the West End.
It will come as little surprise, that the one dancer who draws the eye more than any other carries the surname Strallen. This time, it’s 20-year-old Zizzi who is stealing the spotlight.
Leading man Oliver Tompsett, playing lovestruck rock-wannabe Drew, has a fantastic voice and is full of boyish charm, but one wishes he had more of a rocker’s growl to his vocals. In fact, just one person on the stage has a voice with even the merest hint of a rocky edge. Jodie Jacobs, playing the terribly underwritten Regina gives her numbers the guts and gravel you’d expect everybody to display. But, alas, that is not the case. Even though Tompsett is a wonderful singer, his clean, clear voice does a disservice to songs by the likes of Styx and Twister Sister, which require a little more testosterone behind them.
However, despite the overwhelmingly inadequate cast, the show beats you into submission through sheer force of will. Other reviewers have decried it as crass, tasteless, loud and trashy, and they’re right on each count, but the show is just so shameless it’s virtually impossible not to giggle at some of the more outrageous lines and subversions of theatrical norms. When Lonny/Lipkin brings a programme onstage and talks to Drew/Tompsett about his previous role in Wicked, the message is clear: “We know this is dumb, you know this is dumb, let’s just get on with it and try to have a good time.”
Critics may bemoan Rock of Ages being given life while the likes of Betty Blue Eyes fade away, but this show aims to entertain and while its methods are hardly sophisticated, it succeeds.
Simply put, Rock of Ages knows exactly what it is; over-the-top, campy, tongue-in-cheek fun.
Is it going to enjoy a lengthy run on the West End? No, a couple of years will probably be long enough. But, as long as hen parties exist and the producers can maintain a steady stream of D-list celebrities to play minor roles, there will be an audience.