Get your spandex out - 80s 'hair metal' is coming to the West End

 

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The Independent Culture

It's the musical where good taste is cast aside as head-banging, beered-up fans wave cigarette lighters to the worst of 80s "hair metal". Now Rock Of Ages is set to become a raucous new addition to the conservative world of West End theatre.

A smash hit in the United States, and with a film adaptation in production, starring Tom Cruise, the musical that attracts fans sporting the tight spandex trousers and mullet-hair of its performers is to hit London.

Set in Los Angeles' infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock Of Ages is the ultimate "jukebox musical" for fans of the strain of music nicknamed "poodle rock", in honour of the blonde tresses modelled by the genre's originators.

The musical, which opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre on Tuesday, is built around hit songs by Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake, Foreigner and Twisted Sister. The show, which stars 2005 X-Factor winner Shayne Ward and television presenter Justin Lee Collins concludes with a cast – and audience – rendition of Journey's Glee-revived anthem "Don't Stop Believin' ".

The story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit and Sherrie, a small-town girl, who meet in LA on a mission to "make it big", and their encounters with Stacee Jaxx, a sleazy, groupie-addicted rock star, Rock Of Ages was called "absurdly enjoyable" by The New York Times.

The London producers are encouraging a level of audience participation alien to most West End shows, where a ringing mobile can halt a performance. Fans are encouraged to order beers from their seats during the show by flagging down ushers in the aisles.

A spokesman said: "It will be like a US baseball game. You'll pass money down the row to the ushers and hope you get your beers and change in return. It relies on a level of trust with your neighbours if you're sitting in the middle of the row."

Lingerie hangs from a chandelier above the seats. Audience members will be given toy cigarette lighters to wave, in classic stadium rock fashion. The playing of air guitars is requested.

Even more licentious behaviour is encouraged, said Matt Weaver, the show's producer. "If a couple wants to get up and make out during the show, great, let them," he said. "We have one big foot very respectfully in Broadway, and one foot out."

The show, which received five Broadway Tony award nominations, and features extensive scenes of female strippers, was originally styled as "Mamma Mia! for dudes".

Although dismissed as utterly idiotic by harsher critics, its appeal to fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and This Is Spinal Tap, means Rock Of Ages is likely to prove a West End competitor to the Queen musical We Will Rock You.

Rock of Ages, first performed in LA in 2006, could not have succeeded without the bands responsible for songs such as "The Final Countdown", "Here I Go Again", "Can't Fight This Feeling" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", giving permission to use their songs.

The producers convinced the likes of Europe, Whitesnake, Poison and Twisted Sister that their aim was to celebrate, not mock their work. The artists are now enjoying a publishing royalties windfall. However they failed to persuade Def Leppard to license their song, Rock Of Ages, from which the show took its title.

Does this show mark a new low for London's theatreland?

Yes...

By Michael Coveney

As a fairly tolerant theatre critic, I shall approach Rock Of Ages with an open mind, sort of, but a heavy heart.

It sounds like – only sounds like – the latest attempt to hijack the West End theatre for purposes even more nefarious than a Bill Kenwright revival of Oscar Wilde.

It's the idea of a theatre being some sort of temple I like, not one inimical to cheap jokes and bad behaviour (plenty of that in the Bard, after all), but one safe from cultural hijacking by people who don't really want to be in a theatre in the first place.

Despite its protestation of a romantic plot, Rock Of Ages sound like a midweek tribute night in a Billericay pub. Don't get me wrong, I'm sometimes first in the queue with a chicken in a basket for a heavy metal or Abba sing-along in far-flung motels in Essex and Yorkshire. But that's where such "shows" belong.

No...

By Pierre Perrone

When I attended a preview matinee of Rock Of Ages last weekend, it was more out of a sense of journalistic duty than with high expectations.

I had enjoyed the productions of The Who's Tommy, on Broadway and in the West End in the nineties, but after seeing Mamma Mia!, the unstoppable ABBA musical open in 1999, We Will Rock You, still going strong nine years on, and Tonight's The Night, the Rod Stewart musical that is surely beyond revival, I didn't think that juke-box musicals were for me.

But Rock Of Ages is a mixtape musical, a bit like finding an old cassette full of soft rock, AOR and hair metal taped from FM radio in the eighties and transferring it to digital. I left, my mind racing and buzzing about the possibilities of the mixtape musicals one could build around prog, punk, post-punk, blue-eyed soul or the Laurel Canyon scene of the 1970s. Hotel California the musical anyone?

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