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Review Round-up: Did Rock of Ages Get Critics Believin'?

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Broadway import Rock of Ages opened to press last night (28 September 2011, previews from 31 August) at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Set on LA’s infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages tells the story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit, and Sherrie, a small-town girl, both in LA to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love.

Starring X Factor winner Shayne Ward, TV presenter Justin Lee Collins and West End regulars Amy Pemberton and Oliver Tompsett, the arena-rock musical features hit songs like "Don’t Stop Believin’", "We Built This City", "The Final Countdown", "Here I Go Again" and "Can’t Fight This Feeling".

Michael Coveney

"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 ... 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. ... 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."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"This is as unpleasant a pile of theatrical poo as it has ever been my misfortune to tread in ... Its aim is to celebrate the glam metal bands of the period, a genre sometimes known as 'poodle rock' because of the absurd blow-dried hairstyles of many of its leading practitioners. It was always a particularly naff form of popular music, much given to both maudlin power ballads and brain-dead rock-outs with lots of shrieking guitars. The big surprise is that this dire show, with its fatuous storyline ... has received a warm welcome in some quarters. The show’s book by Chris D’Arienzo is inanely predictable, lamentably written and surprisingly sordid, with its tale of how sweet innocent Sherrie is seduced and promptly dumped by a rock god called Stacee Jaxx ... The jokes are unfunny, the story both predictable and appallingly written, while the acting ... is dismal. I usually have a soft spot for cheesy sleaze, but there is something repellent about this show’s leering manner, while the subplot involving a crude caricatured German property developer, who wants to demolish Sunset Strip, and his outrageously camp son proves as infantile as it is unfunny."

Michael Hann

"It's a very peculiar show indeed, with an unvarying and unpleasant tone of careless sexualisation. Rock'n'roll debauchery is presented as the pure and innocent way of dreamers ... Aside from the female lead ... women exist only to parade in underwear, as hookers, strippers or waitresses, and Sherrie has to take on two of those jobs. The furthest it strays from stereotype is to reveal the developer's camp son Fritz as straight ... and to use REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling" to celebrate two men discovering their love for each other, though it is a shame that scene is played for comedy rather than tenderness. The book ... is as shallow as the scene it supposedly sends up. Worse, it is almost entirely free of laughs, reliant on frequent recourse to the use of props such as prosthetic penises, and Lonny, the narrator (Simon Lipkin) wearing a T-shirt bearing the legend 'Hooray for boobies'. When he bemoans being 'lured to narrate a show with poop jokes and Whitesnake songs', one feels like commiserating."

Pierre Perrone

"More a mixtape than a juke-box musical, it manages to both glory in and lampoon the clichés of the rock genres it's built on, with knowing nods to Axl Rose and David Lee Roth, and the odd X-rated joke about groupies and ping-pong balls, and wipes the floor with the Queen vehicle. The storyline D'Arienzo has weaved around the 30 timewarp rock tracks is enjoyable in its very predictability ... An irritant on television and on the radio, Justin Lee Collins is more personable and in his element as Dupree ... Rachel McFarlane ... steals the show with her soulful voice. Best is the mullet-sporting Simon Lipkin as Lonny, Dupree's bartending sidekick, who constantly breaks the fourth wall. The way D'Arienzo intertwines the hits as characters interact – most effectively when Sherrie sings Joan Jett's I Hate Myself For Loving You and Drew and Stacee reply with Asia's Heat of the Moment during a rollicking second act – proves infectious. The pseudo-rebellious stance of Rock of Ages doesn't bear much scrutiny, but as a feelgood, singalong, rock'n'roll musical it's hard to fault. The most fun I've had at a musical since Jersey Boys. "

Alun Palmor
Daily Mirror

"Back then the ridiculous macho posturing while wearing clothes even Elton John found over the top was looked on as not so much a genre of music, than its unfortunate illegitimate child. This hit Broadway musical is cheesier than a wagon load of Cathedral City dumped in the blazing sun, camper than a Dale Winton convention. Everyone knows the gossamer thin plot is there to service a succession of good gags before hurtling straight into another power anthem. X Factor (brief) winner Shayne Ward plays rock god Stacee Jaxx, and he makes a good job of it. Even Justin Lee Collins isn’t anywhere near as annoying as he usually is as club owner Dennis. But it is the lesser names that shine, especially Oliver Tompsett as Drew and Simon Lipkin as Lonny. Rock of Ages is a hugely enjoyable evening celebrating a time and music we should really leave behind, but can’t. It will rock your world, not arf!"

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

"Fluff up your peroxide poodle perm, slide on your sleeveless Spandex T-shirt, stick on your studded leather jacket ... and get ready for a rotten letdown. Something must have got lost in translation. For this cheerfully cheesy evocation of Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip ... satisfies neither as a spoof nor as a celebration. I know, I know, it’s just a bit of fun, dude ... The story is corny, the jokes about how corny the story is aren’t enough compensation, and the cast commit the cardinal sin of looking as if they are trying to be funny. There’s nothing rock’n’roll about trying so hard to please. Justin Lee Collins stands out for sinking into his character of Dennis ... while ... Shayne Ward looks the part as rock god Stacee Jaxx ... he acts it with no conviction. He’s there to get between our heroes Drew (Oliver Tompsett) ... and Sherrie (Amy Pemberton) ... They all sing nicely ... No one really seizes this material and has fun with it, makes it their own. Chris D’Arienzo’s script has some funny touches and some pretty blunt ones too. Find his humour cloying and effortful and you’d be better off staying at home with your copy of Slippery When Wet. Kristin Hanggi’s production is colourful, at least, and there are one or two moments in the second half where the music does the talking. Yet mostly this mix of anonymous anthemry, underplotting, overwriting and overplaying left me Cold as Ice. And no, they didn’t play that one."

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

"The Shaftesbury Theatre has garnered something of a reputation as the graveyard of musicals. The likes of Napoleon and Daddy Cool disappeared without trace and shall be followed shortly, I suspect, by Rock Of Ages ... Since 'comedy' German accents and campness are never not funny, thank heavens for the subplot about evil German town planners who want to demolish the Strip. Director Kristin Hanggi, astonishingly nominated for a Tony Award for her work, has come up with a frantic, unlovely production that does what all insecure creatures do and talks incessantly without pausing for thought. Ward, X Factor winner in 2005, and TV presenter Justin Lee Collins ... are the headline names, but they feature little, mercifully so in Lee Collins's case. Instead it's largely left to the helpless Pemberton and Tompsett to grind through 31 identical-sounding songs. The best line of the night comes from nowhere near Chris D'Arienzo's book (book? Back of a beer mat in the Bourbon Room, more like) but from a programme note by music writer Dave Everley ... The Rock of Ages stars shrugged off poor first night reviews, insisting they will keep performing as long as audiences enjoy the musical."

- Natalie Generalovich


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