It’s the 1980s. It’s hip to wear big shoulder pads, have even bigger hair and listen to power ballads by the likes of rock giants Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and REO Speedwagon.
Add a smattering of risqué adult humour, sexual innuendo and introduce a shady nightclub on Hollywood’s famous boulevard and you’ve created a nostalgic rocking karaoke-style musical that appeals to those of a certain age who, for a couple of hours or so, can relive their pubescent past.
Rock of Ages debuted on Broadway in 2006 the brainchild of writer Chris D’Arienzo, while six years later this strictly for laughs show hit the silver screen featuring the like of Tom Cruise, Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Many critics dismissed it as yet another thrown together musical yet Rock of Ages went on to spend almost three successful years playing to packed audiences in London’s West End. However it’s now on a nationwide tour and on Monday, it opened in Milton Keynes to a packed audience and a thoroughly deserved standing ovation
It’s a musical show which is up there with Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ and Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’, its mix of jukebox-style rock anthems leaving it streets ahead of the likes of ‘Carnaby Street’ thanks to a talented cast which should have been headed by former Hear’Say member Noel Sullivan.
Unfortunately Sullivan was missing so it was his understudy Stephen Rolley who played romantic Los Angeles barman and wannabe rock star Drew Boley at Monday’s opening night and he gave the performance of his life.
Also in the cast is Ben Richards, the ex-Holby City, The Bill and Footballer Wives actor who really plays it for laughs as Stacee Jaxx who is said to be the biggest name in rock music in LA. But Drew soon learns that Stacee is far from being the rock god he portrays on stage once they actually meet!
Meanwhile the love interest in the show comes in the form of Kansas country girl Sherrie Christian who arrives in LA looking for fame and fortune.
Played by newcomer Cordelia Farnworth, she’s a real breathe of fresh air with a cracking voice. However when she mistakes Drew’s shyness for a lack of interest in her, she turns to Stacee – who heads up a rock band called Arsenal – for a brief romantic liaison.
Sadly Stacee isn’t in the show as much as he deserves to be, for Ben Richards has a great stage presence with a voice to match although to be fair, there wasn’t a single weak link in the 19 strong cast.
As usual with this type of musical, the plot is rather thin with the music itself being the glue that thankfully holds it all together and on this occasion it all revolves around a LA nightclub
Hollywood’s Bourbon Room nightclub is owned by Dennis Dupree (Daniel Fletcher) and it looks set to be demolished by ruthless stereotypical German property developer Hertz Klineman (Jack Lord) and his overly camp offspring, Franz (Cameron Sharp).
The pair have plans to build a huge shopping mall as the cast hammer out Starships’ ‘We Built This City On Rock And Roll’ … while I think you’ve already guessed the rest of the plot?
The show is narrated by the cheeky and quite brilliant Stephan Rahman-Hughes who plays Lonny. He adds so much comedy that at times he really steals the limelight.
However I particularly liked Daniel Fletcher’s second act performance as Denis and his interaction and dance sequence with Lonny, their voices blending superbly as did Sherrie and Drew’s.
Also worthy of mention was the LA Mayor’s protesting secretary Regina (Jessie May) and the Venus strip club proprietor Justice Charlier (Rachel McFarlane) while the scantily clad energetic female Swing members certainly kept the males in the audience entertained.
In fact the whole cast produced a high energy spectacle against a backdrop of California sunshine while the live on-stage band (three guitars, keyboard and drums under the direction of Pierce Tee) makes for the perfect backing, lead guitarist Ashley Wiliams doing a particularly brilliant job by coming out to take centre stage with several high octane riffs.
Meanwhile hit after hit is pumped out – and there are at least 30 rousing numbers originally performed the likes of Foreigner (‘I Want To Know What Love Is’), Twisted Sister (‘I Wanna Rock’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’) and Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’.
Rock of Ages ends with Journey’s anthemic ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ which had the whole audience on its feet singing and clapping along with the cast who certainly gave it their all.
Rock of Ages runs at Milton Keynes until this Saturday (August 23). It starts at 7.30pm tonight (Tuesday), Wednesday and Thursday with a matinee performance at 5pm on Friday and again at 8.30pm. Meanwhile on Saturday the matinee is at 2.30pm with the final evening show at 7.30pm.
Tickets are priced between £12.90 and £38.90 (a £2.85 transaction fee applies) and are available from the theatre box office on 08448 717652 or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes