There are very few musical theatre shows that are beyond critical evaluation, but Rock of Ages is probably one of them. It’s a question, really, of whether the audience for heavy-metal glam rock will find their way to the Shaftesbury to enjoy exactly the sort of music they already relish.
I’m not necessarily averse to this stuff, but I need audio sur-titles. I may as well be watching Shakespeare in Urdu or Mozart in Mongolian. The only critical tactic to adopt is one of either submission or resentment, and I veered violently between both conditions as the music crashed about me like huge waves on Surfers’ Paradise.
Every now and then I waved my pretend cigarette lighter in a futile gesture of participation as I’d long since given up trying to make notes about the plot, or detailed analysis of the musicology.
Ah, the plot, I nearly lost it: this involves a love story going slightly skewwhiff in a Hollywood music club, the Bourbon Room; a German property developer and his camp blond son aiming to “clean up” the Sunset Strip; and the fortunes of a resident band called Stacee Jaxx and the Arsenal. As a Spurs supporter, I’m sorry to say they win through.
I tried to enter the spirit of the evening by taking along my friend, Peter Straker, who graced the original cast list of the very first rock tribal musical, Hair, in this self-same theatre. He responded positively to the level of rock music performance and pointed out to me that this jukebox compilation did indeed cover the cultural waterfront as far as heavy metal glam rock goes.
We had, I’m assured, big time all-time hits from Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Meat Loaf, Starship, AC/DC, Foreigner and Extreme, and there were, I confess, one or two moments when I felt my ignorance was shameful; some of it was indeed very good, and very loud, and very rude, if you like that sort of thing.
But I was more intrigued to note that yet another member of a great theatrical dynasty, Zizi Strallen, was strutting her stuff. The X Factor winner of several years ago, Shayne Ward, was off as the band leader on the press performance I attended, but nobody seemed to mind too much. Simon Lipkin is an impressive emcee, and actually quite funny.
Chris D'Arienzo’s book makes no bones about following one big noisy number with another; in comparison, Mamma Mia! is as subtle as a late Henry James novel. And the direction and choreography by Kristin Hanggi and Kelly Devine has an up-front honesty and vigour that is almost disarming.
Nothing I can say will either propel you to the Shaftesbury or deter you from joining in. Now please excuse me while I lie down in a dark room for a couple of days.