Review: Rock Of Ages at Newcastle Theatre Royal
Rock of Ages – Tuesday 13th June
After many long months rockin’ out across the UK it’s finally time for the guitars, the wigs, the bourbon, the eyeliner and the Fogmaster 5000 to get packed away and sent back to the 80’s.
It won’t be goodbye forever BUT we ask one more time – please, Don’t Stop Believin’ because when you just Can’t Fight That Feeling anymore and you really Wanna Rock and Feel The Noize one last time, you know what
Rock of Ages was one of my favourite movie musicals in the 2010’s and nearly replaced Hairspray as my all time favourite! I will never forget seeing Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx with his Axl Rose inspired character belting out Dead or Alive – incredibly sexy and also kind of stupid. Hosting a whole plethora of classic rock songs this was sure to be an incredible evening. I don’t think I was quite prepared for just how hilarious it was going to be though. At one point I couldn’t breathe from laughing so much. The score of this musical is truly iconic and you can see why it has got such a huge fan base. It has been touring since before the dreaded Covid, which seems like a fever dream. They are truly deserving of a break but for selfish reasons I hope this will not be the last we ever see of this wonderful musical.
I have to say I have never seen a whole cast with so many triple threats – in the musical theatre world that is the ultimate trophy- singing, dancing and acting. The talent that was shared was beyond incredible. There was such a wide variety of vocals on the stage and so many different styles of singers. It was goosebump worthy when they sang in unison. It was a smaller cast, although being very capable, they made the stage feel so full with boundless energy.
The staging was incredibly simple but worked so well. The setting of the Bourbon Room was our backdrop with the huge Marshall speakers and the alcohol clad bar. They seamlessly rolled different sets on and off and this never deterred from the performance. The use of the screen at the top of the stage worked perfectly throughout too, letting us know where our setting was (just in case it wasn’t clear) and the graphics were just awesome. So many 80’s throwbacks, with old school Donkey Kong linking some scenes together. I also loved their hilarious use of the toy car, bicycle and motorbike too- excellent prop use! My only issue was sitting on the left hand side of the stage. We missed a little of the action on the higher parts of the scenery which was a real shame! Just bear this in mind if you’re getting tickets.
I truly adored the lighting in this show. It was some of the best use of lighting I have seen in any show I’ve ever been to see. The lightbulb style lights brightly lit the stage and created such a powerful impact. They had different colours for the different scenes to emphasise the mood of what we were watching. The purple tinge to the Bourbon Room and the red of the strip club. I also loved their comical use of the spotlights, incredibly clever, especially when Franz didn’t make it in time to his own spotlight. Hurrah, Ben Cracknell for such wonderful Lighting Design! Powerful, punchy and real Rock n Roll!
We begin our show meeting the wonderful Lonny Barnet, who was played by the quirky yet wonderful Tim Oxbrow. He really made this character his own. I know it’s easy to often copy what has already been done but he sprinkled his own magic onto this and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. He played the Narrator throughout and led lots of the comedy sketches with ease. I did find him difficult to understand at times as he did speak incredibly quickly though. He bantered with the audience well and poor Sharon or Shazza in the front row took the brunt of a lot of his jokes – she seemed to love this though! There was so much audience participation throughout which I personally enjoyed but I know some people do think this is very Panto-esque! It did feel very wrong to be doing this mid show especially after the latest theatre scandals and it does potentially open you up for a bit of heckling like we heard on Tuesday.
One of my favourite voices on stage was actually played by Scott Hayward as Drew Boley who was an understudy of the role. To have that much talent as an understudy seems criminal and just shows how much immense talent is on display with their cast. Some of the high falsetto notes he hit were jaw dropping and let’s not get started on the huge note he held in the second half. The audience actually gasped at how long it was – the man has some serious vocal skills.
Drew’s love interest Sherrie Christian was played by the truly stunning Gabriella Williams. Not only did she look incredibly gorgeous on stage she was a real triple threat – singing, acting and dancing her way through the whole show just looked like second nature to her. It was a real joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed her rendition of Harden my Heart/ Shadows in the night with the formidable Justice Charlier played by Jenny Fitzpatrick. She has to have one of the best voices in theatre at the moment – deep, earthy and sultry, think Diana Ross in her prime. It
was an absolute privilege to see her perform throughout.
Of course we couldn’t forget about the wonderful bar owner himself, Dennis Dupree, played by none other than Curly Watts himself, Kevin Kennedy. I was so shocked by his performance. He had a real gravel to his voice and teamed up with Lonny provided by far the funniest part of the show in Act Two during I Can’t Fight this Feeling. I actually could not stop laughing! Comedy gold!
Speaking of comedy gold duos, how could I not mention the hilariously geeky Regina who was expertly played by Stephanie Chandos – who knew such a geeky part could be played so glamorously? She ends up in a love affair with the camp, crazy and utterly adorable Franz Kleinman. This killer pair both had wonderful singing voices but Franz truly wowed me, being able to keep up that accent throughout the show, even when singing! He provided such wonderful comic relief for the rest of the cast and was a real hit with the audience. I can see him being many people’s favourite character.
Speaking of favourite characters, as I said before my all time favourite has to be the evil, sleazy Stacee Jaxx, so this had a lot to live upto. Cameron Sharp, took to the stage with his gyrating hips, womanizing ways and silky smooth rock voice and I was instantly hooked. His voice was literally made for the part and he sang and moved around the stage so effortlessly. He had the body language and persona down to a T. During his rendition of Dead or Alive, the chorus dancers really showed off their dancing chops. The dancing throughout was very risque but I LOVED it! The women were absolutely stunning particularly the stunning Erin Bell who played our reporter, Constance. She was a knockout throughout and was the real stand out dancer for me- incredibly flexible, dynamic and a definite girl crush!
The costuming was perfection too. Denim, Leather, Chains, Cowboy Hats and Boots- this show truly had it all – even a rainbow unitard! I would have personally chosen Regina’s Hippie Chic look for sure. A brilliant job by the Head of Wardrobe Melissa Hamill and her team.
It is so nice to see the whole cast interchange throughout into both chorus and different characters. I am always amazed by how they can play so many roles so differently throughout. Such incredible talent! The energy and atmosphere was also ELECTRIC throughout! I will say this show contains so much adult humour so would probably be better suited to older audiences but take this advice at your discretion.
I simply cannot finish this review without congratulating the band on this show. They were truly spectacular and blew our heads off throughout with their punchy bass, dynamic drum solos and killer guitar riffs. Well done to Director and Keys, Liam Holmes, Guitarists, Liam Stevenson and Alex Ward, Bass Guitarist, Elliot Mason and Steve Hynes on Drums.
What can I say? A show packed with powerhouse performers, deadly dancers, vivacious vocals and rockin riffs really left me feeling ecstatic last night. Packed with hits like Dead or Alive, Here I go Again and Hit Me with Your Best Shot this rocking tale will transport you back to 80’s America and the life of the best Rock n Roll scene around at The Bourbon Room. Hilarious, heartwarming and powerful, it truly blew me away. So much talent upon one stage- it is so sad this is Farewell, hopefully it won’t be forever!