Review – Rock of Ages – Shaftesbury Theatre

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It’s been months since Rock of Ages opened in London (way back in the summer), but I’ve continued to find its marketing campaign, based around big hair and big, sequined egomaniacs, irresistible. This is odd, as I grew up in Arizona during the height of the hair metal era and I hated it. Sure, Pat Benatar was okay (not really in the genre in my book), but I loathed Motley Crue and Van Halen (and I bet they hated each other) even while I couldn’t escape from their music any more than the less “rock and roll” lifestyle bands like Journey and Styx. I was a punk rock girl, listening to Siouxsie and Einsturzende Neubaten (and eventually Flaming Lips and Jane’s Addiction) and I hated these big mainstream rock bands and their drunk fans.

Ah, time. 25 years (or more) and 4000 miles later and suddenly I’m nostalgic about the pop music of my youth. It brings back to mind road trips in big cars drinking coolers full of soda with the windows rolled down (because we couldn’t afford air conditioned cars and crossing the desert between Phoenix and LA was hot work). Sure, I was driving to see the Smiths and Dead Can Dance and Nick Cave, but when I think about Los Angeles in the 80s, well, Rock of Ages was hitting me right in the sweet spot. It was trashy, it was fun, I was too young to drink but there was definitely a vibe going on and this show really brought it back for me: Sunset Strip with its neon signs, strip joints, people wearing way too much makeup trying to get into clubs with fake IDs (I know I tried), In and Out burgers, and everything else. It’s captured nicely in Pamela Des Barres’ “I’m With the Band” and even better by “The Dirt” (the Motley Crue bio), but for underaged me, Rock of Ages took about eight years of my life (and twenty years of incredibly mis-matched music) and brought it to life. LA was always a place where people went when they wanted to do something more than stay and rot in their small towns, and a story about a boy who wants to be in a band (Drew Boley, played by Oliver Tompsett) while working in a bar, and another girl who wants to “really” act but is also working in a bar (Sherrie Christian, played by Natalie Andreou) is actually exactly the truth of LA then and now. Wrap it up in a story about sleazy property developers trying to destroy a cool place and you’ve got every city in America; toss in the lure of strip bars, and well, that’s Sunset Strip all over again, where the sex was right next to the rock and roll and they all fed each other in a party lifestyle.

Whew! Trip down nostalgia lane over! All of this could have made a really intense story, but as you might guess, Rock of Ages is about having a good time (rather than being depressing or too accurate). The story is pretty thin but sufficient to get us from point A to point B, and my biggest regret was that they didn’t make more of the David Lee Roth type character (Stacee Jaxx, played by Shayne Ward) who’s featured so prominently in the advertising – those big egoed creatures are easy to laugh at and I was really expecting him to be more of the locus of partying rather than a minor bad guy. And the bit of the story run with the Berkleyite who’s trying to save the Strip from being redeveloped (Regina, Jodie Jacobs) is a bit boring. Frankly, I never expected the narrator to play such a big part, but he stole the show, especially with his … well, there is a big scene toward the end that was unexpected and raised the show up about a whole star in my book for “delivering a positive message in an unexpected place and time.”

To be honest, some of my biggest complaints about this show was the use of songs I considered inappropriate, basically because they weren’t rock and roll enough – Jefferson Starship and Steve Perry are SO wrong for this show. But then you get a big dance scene with the female lead and strippers going for it to Pat Benatar, and then suddenly, well, you feel like you have to be a little more accepting with the artistic license (as they weren’t able to get all of the songs they might have liked to use) because most of it works and it’s pretty damned fun. And they even had fireworks at the end, and as an ultra bonus my balcony seats were promoted to stalls at no extra charge so I was right there in the middle of it all (and drinks WERE available during the show). Deep and meaningful and gonna change the world? No. But absolutely a fun night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday February 15th, 2012. It’s currently booking through October 21st. Note that from April 23rd, they will be adding two shows on Sunday and be dark on Monday.)

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