Rock of Ages Review | Opera House | Manchester
Rock of Ages is a flatpack musical bolstered by its 80s pop-rock soundtrack and riff-heavy performances. The scenery-chewing ensemble ensures that audiences are engrossed by their Energiser bunny enthusiasm as the cast carry the seedy satire with friendly audience participation and charismatic performances.
Health and safety procedures have been put aside for scaffold set pieces, a cacophony of lights and mini mosh pits, all to indulge the audience’s curiosity in the sex, drugs and rock and roll taking place in the Bourbon Room. The familiar storyline welcomes new town girl, Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman), whose dreams of becoming an actress are drop-kicked into the reality of working as a waitress for the washed-up bar and its owner Dennis (Ross Dawes). Fortunately, after befriending a young songwriter, Drew, Sherrie becomes his muse, generating some joyous soft rock ballads while also moonlighting as a waiter.
You may be left with a sense of déjà vu as all your favourite guilty pleasures come pouring out of the bouffant haired, leather pant wearing cast. Rock anthems, I Wanna Rock, Final Countdown and Wanted Dead Or Alive come complete with a live band and become part of the hypnotic collection sporadically performed by the offbeat characters. With its musicians on stage throughout the show, director/choreographer Nick Winston helps to emulate the audiences feeling of being a part of a live, relentless concert. Despite being branded a jukebox musical the majority of the songs sung in Rock of Ages are not detached from the actual narrative, helping to fuel its fantasy sequences and tongue in cheek humour.
The productions best tricks are its larger ensemble numbers that showcase the variety of compelling voices within its capable cast. As the Bourbon Room bar is forced to grapple with big money interests intruding in on their world, flower child city planner Regina (Gabriella Williams), attempts to keep the strip in its authentic form. Deciding to vocally bemoan with a medley of We Built This City/ We’re Not Gonna Take, the majority of the cast show out with exhaustive choreography and animated vocals for this fabulous remix of the hits. Additionally, Joe Gash commands the room with a standout performance as Lonny. Gash is a smooth-talking jester, narrating throughout the show and willing to riff with any woman lucky enough to be sat at the front of the Opera House theatre.
Despite premiering in 2005 the show's story feels overly dated but a few evocative moments place it out of a family-friendly standing. Some concentration surrounding groupies, strippers and drugs is an enjoyable distraction, but its glam rock cast and vigorous choreography amplifies the humour and joy of rock, rather than leaning too heavily into the realities of the murky Sunset Strip it presents. Rock of Ages’ levity and light also means that it is not a show made to be scrutinised for its plot as its multiple story threads are admittedly disorientating and flaky. However, the audiences love of nostalgia has fuelled its 2012 film and guarantees that this jukebox musical is bound to endure as the 80s goes through yet another resurgence.