ROCK of Ages has acquired a lighter look since it last came to this part of the world with quite a few of the characters happily sending up themselves and the part of the story about a Nazi-style business man’s attempt to buy up The Strip, close the clubs and turn it into a commercial centre.
There is a more serious edge to the story of a country girl arriving in the big city seeking fame and fortune, and learning many lessons the hard way as she rapidly grows up, finding love rather than fame.
The whole thing is told at speed, against a garish background of ever-changing, flamboyantly-lit scenes, colourful costumes and a complete disregard for modern day PC. It is sexist, chauvinistic, and raunchy and director/choreographer Nick Winston makes no apologies for playing it that way. This is the late 1980s when such attitudes were commonplace, and with 23 popular numbers from that period to back up his argument, most belted out at a high octane level, he sees no reason to try and soften these images. Judging from the audience response, you would be hard put to it to prove Nick Winston wrong in his judgement of what they had come to see.
There might only be five musicians in the pit, but with the volume turned up to the top of the decibel scale, and all the soloists equipped with those intrusive wraparound mouth personal mics, this was the sort of music that all but demanded you clapped and joined in as it slapped you full in the face. There were a few gentler moments like the romantic duet Waiting for a Girl Like You, in which Jodie Steele as the country girl Sherrie and Luke Walsh as the hopeful young songwriter Drew, who falls in and out of love with Sherrie between their first meeting and the grand finale, gave the audience a rare chance to relax.
In a paper thin script, Jodie also managed to show that she is no mean actor taking Sherrie from naive newcomer, to disillusioned singer, to sex club hostess and back to a nice girl in love with Drew.
With less vocal and dramatic ammunition at her disposal, Zoe Birkett’s imposing sex club owner Justice gave the impression that, given the chance, she could have matched Jodie Steele all the way.
Led by the outrageous narrator Lonny, played in fine tongue-in-cheek style by Lucas Rush, most of the rest of the show was performed as a good-natured send up. This a dangerous path to tread, but, showing no signs of his Coronation Street sex symbol Norman ‘Curly’ Watts, Kevin Kennedy hit the right note as Dennis, the elderly owner of the threatened Bourbon music club. That threat came from Vas Constanti’s neo-Nazi German businessman Hertz, and his bullied weakling of a son Franz, Andrew Carthy. Both were played about as close as you can get to caricature without turning the fun into plain silliness. Franz found an ideal partner in Rhiannon Chesterman’s more controlled political activist Regina – between them they milked every drop of humour from Hit Me With Your Best Shot.
Anthony Costa, a household name since 2000 as one of the founder members of the band Blue, happily sent up the image of an egotistical sexist pop idol playing Stacee Jazz with absolutely no inhibitions.
That portrayal in some ways summed up this whole production, which made no pretence of being subtle theatre. It had a time and a place to present, the attitudes of the 1980s, and a big set of period numbers to back it up. That’s what they had to offer and they did so with no holds barred, to the delight of the audience.