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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Rock of Ages
Shaftsbury Theatre   2011-2012; Garrick Theatre 2013 

Another entry in the jukebox musical category, this Broadway import dips into the 1980s, with a slim story linking songs by Journey, Twisted Sister, Europe, Bon Jovi and the like.

If that's your era and the music you enjoy being nostalgic about, Rock of Ages offers an enjoyable party night, especially since its script is wittier than most, sending up its own clichs even as it commits them. 

The plot has something to do with an evil developer wanting to tear down all the music clubs on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, while the obligatory nice boy who wants to be a rock star meets, loses and then re-wins the nice girl who wants to be an actress. But nobody onstage, least of all the very funny narrator, takes any of this seriously.

I'm not sure whether I should confess or brag that I managed to get through the 1980s without listening to any of this music, and there aren't more than three or four songs in the show that I knew coming in. 

But, given the way they mangle 'We Built This City' and 'The Final Countdown', I suspect that few among the others are definitive interpretations. Inevitably, perhaps, given that this is ancient history to many in the cast, there is a vaguely homogenising effect to the arrangements not quite elevator music perhaps, but cruise ship band blandness.

And while there are all the special effects we've come to expect from flashy musicals laser and strobe lights, film projections, jet engine level sound volumes, and confetti and streamers falling on the audience there's also a vague and inescapable sense of penny-pinching. The sets are basic, the doubling of roles obvious, and a chorus line of four dancers doesn't really fill the stage. 

TV celebrities Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward get star billing for what are actually small supporting roles. The real stars are Simon Lipkin as the very camp and entertaining narrator, and Oliver Tompsett and Amy Pemberton as the lovers though, as is the general rule with musicals of this sort, the roles and performances are generic enough that you probably won't miss much if you see one of the three or four alternates and understudies listed for each role.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Rock of Ages - Shaftsbury 2011

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