The decade of big hair, shoulder pads, power ballads and rock gods: the Eighties was the decade that taste and fashion forgot. With Rock of Ages at the Theatre Royal Brighton, the era is showcased as the sexiest, dirtiest and naughtiest place on earth, and there’s no better place to be.
The scene is Sunset Strip in Eighties LA, where our hero Drew (Noel Sullivan) is eking out a living in The Bourbon Room Club and dreaming of being a rock star. He falls for Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth), newly arrived from Kansas in search of stardom herself. But when she misinterprets his shyness as disinterest and has a fling with the narcissistic lead singer of rock giants Arsenal, the romance is dead before it begins. Club owner Dennis Dupree (Daniel Fletcher) faces his own fight as ruthless German developer Hertz Klineman (Jack Lord), hindered by his camp son Franz (Cameron Sharp), seeks to demolish the Strip and replace it with a soulless mall.
Don’t worry though, it’s not a serious affair. In fact, it plays the whole thing strictly for laughs. The songs keep rolling, to the delight of a quite lukewarm audience (they did get going in Act 2) that revel in the nostalgia and musical in jokes. It’s in the same vein as Spinal Tap, heartily making fun of the ludicrous nature of the glam rock scene, married to the age-old romantic plot of boy meeting girl, losing girl, and then finding girl again.
Rock of Ages is also terrifically funny and self-aware. A scene where Lonny talks to Noel Sullivan’s Drew about Hear’say is particularly amusing. He jokes that Noel was in Spice Girls, whilst pulling a real Rock of Ages programme out of his pocket, which is an “affordable price” by the way. It’s a refreshing hit of theatre that doesn’t take itself too seriously because it’s just having too much fun to do so. But it’s Cameron Sharp’s Franz who steals the show. “I’m not gay, I’m just German” being a highlight. He deserved the biggest cheer of the night.
The plot is a vehicle for hit after hit, with narrator Chris Southgate’s Lonny holding it all together with cheeky charm. There are 30 songs threaded through the show, some belted out by the big voices of Sullivan, Farnworth and the rest of the cast, whilst others are given the light-hearted treatment. The terrific ensemble effort of ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ combines the masculine tones of the male cast members with the higher voices of the female cast, and it works perfectly.
Throw in the sexy rock chicks, California backdrops and some enjoyably tongue-in-cheek dance routines, and you have over two hours of frolicsome fun. As Lonny says, the show is simply an excuse for “boob jokes and Whitesnake songs” – and why not? If it’s this fun, who the hell cares?
It’s not winning any awards for its story and occasionally the songs do feel a bit too tacked on – with a few clunky and forced transitions – but you can look past that because it’s such a fun time, with a rocking soundtrack. If you like the rock music of the 80s, Rock of Ages is a must see. You’ll be out of your seat more times than you’re in it.