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Rock Of Ages

Published 28 September 2011

There are a few key ingredients that every good soft rock music video needs – a wind machine, pyrotechnics, dry ice, lasers, guitarists adopting a wide-legged stance – Rock Of Ages has them all.

In its adoption of the prerequisites for a bouffant-tastic 80s power ballad, it is unsurpassed. Of course, at over two hours long, it needs to be more than a large scale, live music video.

Originally staged in the US before making the leap to the West End, Rock Of Ages is set in 80s LA, where everyone wants to be a rock star or an actress, where everything is heavily sexualised and where there is more uncontrollable hair than at a Wookie convention.

Here, of course, we find a boy and a girl, both chasing separate dreams, who fall in love, but whose love lives are troubled. Here we find a washed-up star desperately holding onto his fame. Here we find a wise old head, whose business is threatened by heartless developers. It may not be original in its plot development, but it is easy to slip into a Rock Of Ages comfort zone and be carried along by a talented cast who bang out a collection of rocking numbers and don’t make the audience think too hard.

This, you may have guessed, is not highbrow, soul-searching, humanity-questioning, philosophising fare. It’s guitar-thrashing, big-hair-tossing, puerile-laugh-inducing silliness, not to be taken within touching distance of seriousness. Chris D’Arienzo’s book is not the most challenging and frequently goes straight for the lowest common denominator laughs – sex, sex, more sex – but the British cast make it work.

Simon Lipkin is a hilariously silly Lonny, the narratorial presence dragging the audience through the story. Justin Lee Collins makes a fine full West End debut as threatened bar owner Dennis, while Shayne Ward is happy to play the fool as struggling rock star Stacee Jaxx, seemingly spending half the evening in his pants.

He’s not the only one. Women in this version of LA seem to have a pathological fear of clothes. Granted part of the show is set in a strip club where wearing much more than undercrackers would be seen as overdressing, but elsewhere similarly little is worn by the female half of the ensemble, while the men sport full rock outfits. It’s back to comparisons with music videos again. The gender disparity is there too.

But what of the music? Fans of 80s poodle rock will certainly recognise more of the tunes than your average musical theatre fan, but songs like Don’t Stop Believin’, The Final Countdown, We Built This City and Wanted Dead Or Alive are well known enough for a mainstream audience. Belted out by a strong-voiced cast, which also includes Oliver Tompsett – who has a perfect voice for soft rock – and Amy Pemberton, their infectious choruses and guitar solos get under the skin and get the head bobbing.

Maybe it’s the Guitar Hero-playing, mullet-envying Bon Jovi fan in me, but despite its flaws and questionable morals I found myself waving my lighter in the air with joy and rocking along with the best of them. In the wise words of Joan Jette and the Blackhearts, Rock Of Ages, I hate myself for loving you, but, as REO Speedwagon so memorably sang, I’m gonna keep on loving you.

MA

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