Rock of Ages – Opera House, Manchester
The West-End & Broadway juke-box musical ROCK OF AGES, full to the brim with classic rock head-bangers, is making a 2023 farewell tour around the UK. I was lucky enough to catch them at the Manchester Opera House.
Rock of Ages is a tongue-in-cheek, sexy, glam-rock romance about two kids trying to make it on the LA strip. Meanwhile, the Bourbon bar is being threatened by the gentrifying influence of German investors looking to make a quick buck. It features nostalgic hits like “I Wanna Rock”, “Dead or Alive” and “Feel The Noize”, pumped up with powerful vocalists and high-adrenaline dance numbers.
There’s a reason why this musical keeps coming back after over 15 years of UK and US performances (and why it is one of my guilty pleasure favourites!). The unapologetic campiness of eighties rock lends itself well to a jukebox musical. This production was visually fantastic, full of smooth, energetic choreography by Nick Winston, stunning lighting design by Ben Cracknell, and committed performances from a cast packed full of talent.
All three understudies were utterly brilliant. Reece Duncan was a stand-out star as washed-up rockstar Stacee Jaxx, with fantastic pipes and heaps of charisma. Darius James as Lonny was a delight, working the audience expertly and coming out with some one-line ad-libs that consistently cracked us up, and reminding us why we should be forever in awe of the versatile talent of Swing performers.
Usually, I find the sweet-as-pie romance between Sherrie and Drew tedious, but these two absolutely sold it with a tongue-in-cheek irreverence that I found endearing. Gabriella Williams brings an edge and wicked sense of humour to the role, and Sam Turrell has practically inhuman lung capacity and control over his voice.
Many reviews have complained about the thin plot of this show. I don’t think anyone is going into Rock of Ages expecting Les Misérables. This show does exactly what it promises and delivers it with a wink and a nudge that gives you permission to enjoy its simplicity.
That being said, I find myself wishing that this show that owes so much to all things camp and queer treated its gay romance with a bit more respect. I always end up feeling a little uneasy when Lonny and Dennis skip around together holding hands in a way that’s clearly being played for laughs. The eighties aesthetic owes so much to queer culture, after all.
The audience was with the performers from beginning to end, up on their feet and singing along to an energetic rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin”. There is no better litmus for a great show, in my opinion, than an audience’s willingness to get up and dance in the aisles. For those of you that are looking for a solid night of fun, great music and eighties nostalgia, this is a show not to miss.
Rock of Ages continues at Manchester’s Opera House until 18th March, https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewer: Bo Warner
Reviewed: 14th March 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
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