Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre, London
Wednesday 28 September 2011
On paper, a juke-box musical based on the power ballads of Foreigner, Journey and REO Speedwagon and the hair metal anthems of Bon Jovi, Poison and Twisted Sister sounds an even worse idea than We Will Rock You. Until you look at the download sales of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and work backwards, like Chris D'Arienzo must have done when he wrote the book for Rock of Ages.
More a mixtape than a juke-box musical, it manages to both glory in and lampoon the clichés of the rock genres it's built on, with knowing nods to Axl Rose and David Lee Roth, and the odd X-rated joke about groupies and ping-pong balls, and wipes the floor with the Queen vehicle.
The storyline D'Arienzo has weaved around the 30 timewarp rock tracks is enjoyable in its very predictability. A ditzy blonde from the Midwest – named Sherrie after Journey vocalist Steve Perry's biggest solo hit, and zestily played by Amy Pemberton – walks into the Bourbon Room, a Whisky a Go Go-style venue on LA's Sunset Strip, and is hired by its owner Dennis Dupree. An irritant on television and on the radio, Justin Lee Collins is more personable and in his element as Dupree. Drew, an aspiring musician hoping to become the new "Sebastian Bach" – cue Skid Row gag for the hair metal trainspotters – falls for Sherrie but loses her to rock star Stacee Jaxx whose party animal persona doesn't prove too much of a stretch for the 2005 X Factor winner Shayne Ward. There is a subplot about the redevelopment of the Sunset Strip – yes, the cast belt out Starship's "We Built This City" with gusto – and Sherrie winds up in a gentlemen's club run by Rachel McFarlane, who steals the show with her soulful voice. Best is the mullet-sporting Simon Lipkin as Lonny, Dupree's bartending sidekick, who constantly breaks the fourth wall.
The way D'Arienzo intertwines the hits as characters interact – most effectively when Sherrie sings Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You" and Drew and Stacee reply with Asia's "Heat of the Moment" during a rollicking second act – proves infectious. The pseudo-rebellious stance of Rock of Ages doesn't bear much scrutiny, but as a feelgood, singalong, rock'n'roll musical it's hard to fault. The most fun I've had at a musical since Jersey Boys.
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