Rock of Ages
at Shaftesbury Theatre, London
Isn't it annoying when people say something is the male version of something else? Especially when all they really mean is the straight male version? Rock of Ages, the West End's newest jukebox musical, has been described by several assumably straight, possibly male commentators as 'the Mamma Mia! for men'. This, of course, is wildly inaccurate. And no amount of women dancing around in their underwear pretending to be strippers while bumping and grinding to rock music makes it so.
Put it this way – Rock of Ages is not the Mamma Mia! for gay men. There is very little here that will speak directly to the gay male theatregoer, except maybe the vaguest hint of a gay male relationship between two of its super-macho characters, so vague and smacking of irony (cue Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore) I may well have misinterpreted it. Not to mention the peddling of a mildly offensive stereotype in screaming German queen Hans, the central antagonist's reluctant sidekick. And after a couple hundred limp-wristed jokes, he turns out to be straight anyway. Oh well, that's FINE then.
That's not to say there's nothing to enjoy here. Just-a-small-town-girl and wannabe-actress Sherrie is a compelling enough protagonist, played with confidence and gutsy vocals by Natalie Andreou, who has a likable Sheriden Smith quality about her. And there's something undeniably effective about the fish-out-of-water plot device – when a young Sherrie hit 80s LA in a foul outfit in the pursuit of fame and fortune, you'll find yourself rooting for her, no matter how damaging the message is to the kids in the audience. And there were A LOT of kids in the audience. Many of whom, irritated at the frequency of thinly-veiled sex jokes, repeatedly asked their parents 'What does that mean? No, but what does it MEAN???' It was funny at first, but after the fifth time we started to feel a bit grossed out.
Sherrie stumbles across dingily famous rock bar the Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip. After bending over to pick something up, the bar's owner Dennis Dupree promptly gives her a job. Justin Lee Collins takes on this less-than-supporting, very two dimensional role, and much of the warmth of the television personality we know and love gets obscured.
There, Sherrie meets and falls in love with bar-boy and aspiring-rock star Drew, played sweetly and with equally strong vocals by Oliver Tompsett (very pretty, but looks a bit uncomfortable in what we're assuming is a wig). Their road to love is laden with inane detours and obstacles that don't really add up to much. Some German businessman wants to tear down the Strip or something – we weren't really listening; we were too distracted by the constant shrieking of his not-gay son Hans. The more notable obstacles are the 500 or so power-ballads (some good, some bad) Drew and Sherrie have got to get through before curtain-down. Luckily, the pair's talent as singers carries the show along nicely, otherwise, this could have been a very painful experience.
There are many guilty-pleasure laugh-out-loud moments, although a lot of them are rooted in something akin to misogyny. They mostly come courtesy of narrator Lonny, best friend of Drew – one of his sweaters bears the words 'Hooray for boobies', which says it all.
Ultimately, it's a mixed bag. Some will find it fun, others pure torture. We're tipping slightly towards the latter...
210 Shaftesbury Avenue
020 7379 3345
For tickets, click here
For the official website, click here
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