As Lonny the Narrator – played in a fabulous near-the knuckle style by Joe Gash – says “Sometimes the dream you leave with isn’t the one you start out with.” This is certainly true of Rock of Ages.
Anyone who entered the theatre with dreams of a production to challenge the intellect would have been sorely disappointed. But there wasn’t a single member of the audience who could have left at the end without the uplifting feeling that they have just experienced a night of raucous unadulterated fun.
With the main plot revolving around Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman) – a small-town girl who leaves home to pursue her dreams of stardom, it follows her doomed dreams as she meets and falls in love with Drew ( Luke Walsh) – a clean-cut guy who is a beacon of light in the sea of hedonism. When Drew pulls back from a more committed relationship, Chesterman’s character seduces rock god Stacee Jaxx – played in a gloriously sleazy fashion by Kevin Clifton. The joy is short-lived though and Sherrie has to seek solace from the more-experienced Justice (Jenny Fitzpatrick.
While all this is going on the nightclub owned by Dennis Dupree (Ross Dawes) is under threat of demolition by ruthless developer Hertz (Vas Constanti) abetted by his uptight son Franz (Andrew Carthy) and it is up to Regina (Gabriella Williams) to lead the demonstrations against the development.
To be fair, there have probably been better plots so why does this show succeed so well when it could have been a total failure. The reason is that all the parts needed to manufacture a hit production are honed to make the perfect jigsaw.
Firstly, the play never takes itself seriously and the cast throw themselves into the action with tremendous verve. There is no weak link in a troupe of actors that click together so well and show off their skills to the delight of the audience. From the ensemble through to the leading lights, it was an absolute pleasure to observe talent enjoying their craft.
Secondly, the Creative Team of Set and Costume Designer Morgan Large, Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell and Sound Designer Ben Harrison brought all their expertise and experience in West End productions to bear in bringing the brash and bright mid-1980s set to life.
Thirdly, Director and Choreographer Nick Winston did a great job. Gash’s character could have overwhelmed the other cast members as he worked the audience as well as any narrator could. But Winston makes sure that the other characters come alive too. They could have been mere caricatures but the audience is allowed to care for them and derives great pleasure from seeing the relationships blossom. The geeky Regina and Franz provide comedy as they come closer together; there are cheers when Sherrie and Drew conquer their problems; Lonny and Dupree find love; Hertz softens his character; and there is hope that Jaxx will be able to fight his demons.
Finally, the music stands out. This is a jukebox musical but the production puts its own stamp on the well-known tunes. Driven at full-throttle by a house band that comprises Liam Holmes, Liam Stevenson, Alex Ward, Elliot Mason and Vito Guerrieri, the cast are given ample opportunity to air their vocal talents. Clifton gives a bravura performance of Dead or Alive and I Want To Know What Love Is is delivered with an earthiness missing from the original hit single. As Act 1 ended with a stirring version of Here I Go Again that was greeted with prolonged loud applause Lonny remarked “I think they liked that”. The audience certainly did and was treated to more after the interval with Every Rose Has Its Thorn gaining extra poignancy as a down-tempo number amid all the musical mayhem. By the end of proceedings, the audience was up on its feet begging for more from the multi-talented cast.
Not for the faint-hearted, Rock of Ages pushes the boundaries at times. With its slick dialogue and fast-moving scenes, the opening stages can difficult to follow as characters are introduced. But once the audience member’s brain has got into top gear, Rock Of Ages shows just why musical theatre can be magically entertaining. Don’t Stop Believin’!!!
The show runs or 2 hours 35 minutes with interval and continues until Saturday 6th November. For details contact atgtickets.com/stoke