Review: It's not for me but Rock of Ages is certainly wowing the crowds in Milton Keynes
Alan Wooding reviews Rock of Ages at Milton Keynes Theatre
The Rock of Ages UK tour arrived in Milton Keynes this week to a joyous reception.
And while it's yet another jukebox-style musical show and shamelessly cheesy, it has proven to be a smash hit with audiences across the globe.
Rock of Ages features 25-plus rock anthems from the likes of Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Foreigner which transport you back to the 1980s. Its ear-splitting soundtrack, orchestrated by Ethan Popp was still ringing in my head long after I'd left the theatre.
Fortunately there's a more substantial storyline than in some musicals of this genre, although many would think Chris D’Arienzo's plot might have been scribbled on the back of a fag packet. Even so it was revived and adapted for the Broadway stage back in 2009 before making its debut in London's West End two years later.
It's a tale of two young dreamers. Drew is an aspiring singer hoping to become a rock star named Wolfgang von Colt while Sherrie is a pretty country girl looking for Hollywood fame. The two wannabe stars meet in the Bourbon Room bar on LA's Sunset Strip where Lonny, the show's camp narrator superbly played by Joe Gash, already works with Drew (Luke Walsh) who instantly falls for new employee Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman) who makes her debut on stage seated on a tiny John Deere-lookalike tractor.
However it's the arrival of the ageing, womanising rocker Stacee Jaxx (played by Kevin Clifton) which upsets the applecart, and he gets her fired after a fumbling fling in the gent's toilets. Fortunately Sherrie finds further employment at the Venus Gentleman's Club owned by Justice (Jenny Fitzpatrick) where we come across Hertz and Franz (Vas Constanti and Andrew Carthy respectively), a pair of comical German redevelopment businessmen, the former also arriving at one point on a miniature JCB digger.
And that's where the show turns into something like a pantomime, for this Germanic pair want to tear everything on the strip down and redevelop the whole area while their Second Act version of Hit Me With Your Best Shot is truly hilarious when joined by development protestor Regina (Gabrielle Williams).
Strictly Come Dancing winner Kevin 'From Grimsby' Clifton is excellent as Stetson-wearing rocker Stacee Jaxx, lead singer with The Arsenal, who certainly has an eye for the ladies. Besides his undoubted talent on the dancefloor, he's got a great voice and gave a totally over-the-top performance worthy of his standing ovation.
But it's Joe Gash as narrator Lonny who really carries Rock of Ages and he even tells the audience so at the end of the first act. He immediately builds a great rapport with the audience with comic timing besides picking out a female audience member in the front row as a butt of his jokes. His voice was a bit like listening to Alan Carr on steroids, but he delivered some great vocals as well as displaying boundless energy. A truly great performer.
However it's lovers Drew and Sherrie who really impressed. Luke Walsh was in fabulous form although his ability to hold a note surely must put a massive strain of his vocal chords night after night. He also played the guitar while his duets with Rhiannon Chesterman were absolutely spot on.
Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Ross Dawes) was a real rocker and had another great powerful voice while my daughter loved the vocals performed by Jenny Fitzpatrick as the Venus Gentleman's Club proprietor Justice.
The talented Ensemble all had their individual parts to play while the awesome five piece band under musical director Liam Hughes (keyboard, two guitars, bass and drums) never missed a beat as they hammered out hits like We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again, Can’t Fight this Feeling, I Want To Know What Love Is and Don’t Stop Believin’ – they're all played loud and proud.
Rock of Ages takes up every inch of available space on stage which features a massive hanging video screen while there are several references and screen shots pertaining to 1980s movies like Jaws, Star Wars, ET and King Kong.
There's also three different staging levels (designed by Morgan Large) which the whole cast use to great effect. Meanwhile the onstage band are placed right at its heart, all the metal framework and enormous lights (designed by Ben Cracknell) seemingly reminding you that you're attending something akin to a full blown rock concert.
The whole cast certainly worked their socks off – especially the band! – while some of the show's comedy moments seemed lost in their delivery. I enjoyed the second act far more than the first and although the majority of the audience was in raptures at the finale, for me Rock of Ages was not a show I particularly want to revisit any time soon.
* Rock of Ages run at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday October 2. Call 0844 871 7652 or visit atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes to book.