Having heard pretty mixed reviews of this West End musical, I confess it wasn’t a show high on my hit list. But, despite it being a sober Monday night with the Shaftesbury Theatre half full; I was captured by the energy, humour and talent… what a nice surprise.
Having wowed audiences on New York’s Broadway, Simon Dale of Heart FM summed it up brilliantly by describing the show as: ‘Spinal Tap Meets Rocky Horror’.
With neon signs and 80s rock tunes greeting you as you find your seat, I instantly got the vibe of a gig, rather than a West End musical. Beer sellers walking the aisles throughout the show add to the picture – this ‘aint your usual night at the theatre. In what other theatre along Shaftesbury Avenue will you see signs for Jack Daniels and Live Nudes?
Scantily-clad girls don’t leave a lot to the imagination and I could see the eyes watering in the first few rows. It must be hard to know where to look. This is a sexy show, but it’s also a crass one. The humour is terrific, but if you’re easily offended by sexual references, innuendo and a tiny bit of bad taste be prepared. Get past that (I was forewarned) and you too will rock with laughter as well as to the music.
For me, the performances stood out for three reasons. The vocal talents of the lead cast are quite incredible and would make most X-Factor wannabes look like deadbeats. There are some brilliant comic performances, particularly from Simon Lipkin as Lonny and Justin Lee Collins as Dennis Dupree. And the cast look like they’re genuinely having fun out there, which heightens the energy felt by the audience.
The story is a bog standard ‘boy meets girl’ affair with the Sunset Strip in 1980s Los Angeles the setting for a tale that’s light on substance but big on fun.
Drew (played by excellent understudy Jamie Muscato during my performance – usually Oliver Tompsett) is a boy sweeping the floor at The Bourbon Room; a live music venue stuck in a time warp, along with its owner, Dennis Dupree played by Justin Lee Collins.
JLC in a musical? Well, he got the bug after dipping his toes into West End waters and the cast of Chicago when filming a documentary for Sky1. It didn’t surprise me that he was hilarious, but his voice isn’t half bad and Justin filled the role with ease.
Sherrie is Drew’s love interest, arriving in the big city with big dreams. Played by Natalie Andreou, the voice is remarkable and she plays the part perfectly, switching from sassy to naive without effort. Hired as a Bourbon Room waitress with the help of Drew, the love blossoms, with inevitable bumps along the way.
The side story surrounds mean German property developers with an ambition to tear down the iconic Strip and build an endless list of soulless concrete.
With love and the fate of the Bourbon Room at stake, not to mention rock ‘n’ roll itself, our characters follow a bumpy road; but with the soundtrack rarely far behind our spirits never dip.
With music from Journey, Europe, Bon Jovi, White Snake, Starship and many more complementing the cheesy narrative, there’s plenty of opportunity for smoke machines and lighters in the air (no, really).
But what about Shayne Ward? The 2005 X-Factor winner is a headline member of the cast but the character of Stacee Jaxx, although fundamental to the story, doesn’t enjoy a great deal of airtime.
Stacee, the lead singer in fictional rock outfit, Arsenal is on hand to play the Bourbon Room where it all started in an attempt to save the club. Ward copes well with his West End debut with a strong vocal performance but fans may be disappointed his cocky, unlikeable character isn’t on stage more.
Back to the West End and the stand out performance for me came from Simon Lipkin as Lonny, who serves as narrator whilst managing the affairs of the Bourbon Club. Not a bad singer, he is comedy gold, with perfect timing, a cheeky grin and a knack of taking the edge of some of the more risqué humour. The lady next to me kept ‘tutting’ and laughing at the same time.
There is a highly talented full band on stage throughout the show and it’s without doubt the music and the performances that captured me. Blending in with the storyline – think Dupree and Lonny discovering feelings for each other to the tune of Can’t Fight This Feeling – you get the picture. Don’t take it serious and enjoy the ride.
There’s a lack of clothing, it’s rude and the 80s mullets are a terrible reminder of how fashion can go so badly wrong. But the music endures and hits you with a big smile.
I can’t remember a Monday night being this fun in a long time. I’m going to go back at the weekend sometime, join in with the hen parties and ‘get’ on the beers. It must be wild.
Rock of Ages is currently playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and from the 23rd April performance times will change to: Tuesday to Friday at 7.30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, plus new Sunday shows at 3.30pm and 7pm.
Boredom Killer Rating: 4 out of 5