Rock of Ages – Review – York Grand Opera House
By Alex Lattimore, April 2019
If someone had told me that during my next trip to the theatre I would be on my feet singing along to a rousing rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey – featuring Blue’s Antony Costa and Curly Watts from Coronation Street – I would have probably laughed at them. But that’s exactly what happened when my wife and I visited the Grand Opera House in York to see Rock of Ages, the 10th anniversary touring production of the original Broadway and West End hit, which was also made into a film starring Tom Cruise in 2012.
In the “mid-to-late 80s”, aspiring rocker Drew (Luke Walsh) works in the Bourbon Room, an LA bar owned by Dennis Dupree (the aforementioned Curly, AKA Kevin Kennedy) and assisted by Lonny Barnett (the brilliant Lucas Rush, who also serves as the narrator). Drew instantly falls for Sherrie (Jodie Steele), who has just arrived from Kansas hoping to make it big in Hollywood, while Dupree tries to persuade Stacee Jaxx (Costa) to reunite his band Arsenal for one last gig at the Bourbon Room before it is closed down and demolished by a pair of German developers.
As far as storylines go, it’s hardly Game of Thrones, but it doesn’t need to be. The audience have paid to hear some of the biggest and most extravagant hits of the era, and that’s precisely what the cast delivers, along with some very funny moments for good measure.
The show isn’t the most politically-correct; in fact, it’s far from it. There’s bottom-slapping, scantily-clad women gyrating and not-so-subtle sex references by the bucketload. But that is all true to the era in which it is set. If hashtags existed during this hedonistic decade, then #metoo would have meant something very different indeed…
“Delivered with the required gusto”
The main cast, also featuring former Pop Idol contestant Zoe Birkett, all give vibrant, energetic performances, both vocally and in the crisply choreographed dance numbers. The live band who play along with each song also deserve immense credit. Some of the slower ballads fall a little bit flat, but the real 80s anthems – including ‘We Built This City’, ‘Here I Go Again’ and ‘The Final Countdown’ – are all delivered with the required gusto.
The real star of the show, however, is Rush. In his role as narrator, he often breaks the fourth wall, nodding and winking to the audience, in particular one woman in the front row called Michelle, who is picked out early on and then regularly ribbed throughout the two-and-a-half-hour performance. Of course, it is all in good humour, and definitely made it a show Michelle will remember for a long time to come.