On first finding out that I would be going to see Rock of Ages , my first instinct was that of uncertainty. Having a long history with musical theatre, the idea of a rock musical was not something I would normally sign up for. In fact the concept of a jukebox musical has never really sat easily with me, and therefore I arrived expecting something similar to We Will Rock You, but thankfully I was in for a pleasant surprise.
When I walked into it’s Shaftesbury Theatre home, I was instantly met by the feel of a rock concert, a smokey room with neon lights, tank top wearing stewards bearing beers and leopard print underwear hanging from the typically elegant chandeliers. When the first guitar solo had commenced and the wind machine was switched on, I at first found it hard to get into the swing of this rock’n’roll musical. Whether it was down to the initial script or my own feelings towards the genre, I found the beginning couple of songs rather slow. However that feeling was quickly changed by the character of ‘Lonny’ the narrator for the evening, played by Simon Lipkin, who manages to gain support of each member of the audience. From thrusting to the front row to introducing jazz hands before the interval, you can’t help but find him endearing and engaging throughout.
After getting over the label of ‘rock’ I realised why the score might be full of what might be referred to as ‘anthems’ and it’s because they are in actuality, great songs. These songs feel almost effortless for leads Oliver Tompsett and Amy Pemberton, who leave the audience in awe of the complex riffs and shear range required for the roles. With the more light-hearted musicals, vocal ability can sometimes be overlooked, but for these two, by the end of the first act you are in no question that these are two of the best voices currently playing in the West End.
Not only was the singing outstanding, but equally great was the conviction of the dancing ensembles. With choreography that shrieks of rock, each member of the cast delivered number after number, whilst dealing with some of the smallest costumes seen on stage.
For me the main negative of this production would be the awkward audience participation, with stewards coming to the end of your seats and demonstrating how to clap or how to wave a lighter in the air. I found it jarring to the music and somewhat distracting from what was taking place on stage. I don’t know if this is something that perhaps worked better with US audiences, but should perhaps be re-thought for the London run of the show.
Overall I feel that this is going to be a real star for the West End, and comes at a time when we really needed some fresh blood in the musical theatre offering. It’s something men, women and teenagers will all love, and is perfect for theatre first-timers and will hopefully win around theatre lovers as well. The amount of commitment within every cast member, from ensemble to lead, proved that this show is rockstar ready – don’t stop believing!
Submitted by guest blogger @richardsbm