BURRINGTON Combe should surely benefit from a few extra visitors this week, as the place which inspired the original Rock Of Ages, in 1763.The hymn, by the Reverend Augustus Toplady, was written after he sheltered from a storm in a cleft in a rock in the Somerset village, a rock since renamed the Rock Of Ages. 220 years later the title of the hymn was borrowed for a song by the British heavy metal band Def Leppard, and thus for the title of the jukebox musical currently touring the UK, tonight drawing a well-deserved standing ovation from the capacity 1900 plus audience at the Bristol Hippodrome.
Conceived in 2006, with a simple boy-takes-a-while-to-get-girl plot filled with heavy guitar-based rock hits from the 1980s, Rock Of Ages was a hit off-Broadway, on Broadway, and around the world before being turned into a film in 2012. The show is still running on Broadway and Las Vegas, where it resides in its own bespoke “Bourbon Room”, the main setting for the stage show.
This is a show full of energy, vitality, and lots of loud music – the sort of music you find on albums such as Top Gear’s Greatest Ever Driving Songs, or 101 Rock Anthems. The best thing about jukebox musicals is that somebody has chosen some of the catchiest songs and melded them into an easy-to-follow story for you to sing along to. The hardest thing is for the cast to gain any sort of empathy or understanding from the audience, but this cast do a great job, with some of the best singing currently on stage in this country – Noel Sullivan has a powerful voice which can soar well into the tenor range, and can sustain a note for half a minute. He has graduated from Hearsay to true rock and stage star and plays the lead part of Drew to perfection. Two of the West End cast, Daniel Fletcher and Rachel McFarlane, bring a knowledge and confidence to the roles of Dennis Dupree and Justice Charlier respectively. Stephen Rahman-Hughes steps easily in and out of character to narrate where needed, and Cordelia Farnworth is just vulnerable enough as the wronged heroine. The rest of the ensemble are rarely out of action, with three ladies switching from dancers to protesters and back within just a few seconds.
The onstage band, two guitars, bass, keyboard and drums, are more than just a show band – they are the lifeblood of Rock Of Ages, faithfully reproducing riffs, intros and solos from many songs which are all too familiar, as well as adding their own gifted musical touch when given the chance.
This show will rock Bristol until the end of this week, and on around the country until at least November. If you like your music easy, peaceful, contained, and safe, please go elsewhere!