Theatre Review: ROCK OF AGES – The Lowry, Salford

Rock of Ages at The Lowry

SMTC’s production of ROCK OF AGES entertains but is a little rough-around-the-edges

The tail end of the big, bad 1980s was a time of big bands, big egos and even bigger hair. It was also was the age of the power ballad – those air-guitar anthems that you can’t help but rock along to. So when Salford Musical Theatre Company (SMTC) needed a killer show to follow their 2015 performance of BOOGIE NIGHTS, it’s no surprise that they turned to smash hit jukebox musical ROCK OF AGES for inspiration.

Based on the book by Chris D’Arienzo, ROCK OF AGES tells the story of resident toilet cleaner Drew Boley and small town girl Sherrie Christian who meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. But when German developers sweep into town with plans to turn legendary rock venue The Bourbon Room into a capitalist strip mall, the rock ‘n’ roll fairy-tale looks like it’s about to end. Can Drew, Sherrie and the gang save the strip – and themselves – before it’s too late or will the German developers persuade the city’s major to abandon the “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle of the Sunset Strip?

Like many jukebox musicals (WE WILL ROCK YOU and MAMMA MIA! particularly spring to mind), ROCK OF AGES is most definitely a guilty pleasure. D’Arienzo’s story leaves a lot to be desired – the script is cheesy and clichéd, the plot is predictable and the jokes are appalling – but what ROCK OF AGES lacks in narrative, it more than makes up for in score. The production basks in the glory of glam metal with power ballads hits from bands like Whitesnake, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister and Journey that you can’t help but rock along to.

Yet while Director Howard G Raw and SMTC have tried hard to bring the polish and pizazz of the original Broadway version to the stage, elements of the show still feel a bit like a high school production. The biggest issue is with the pacing. The vast majority of the songs are crammed into the extended first half, with little break between the numbers and some of the cast struggle to compete with the wailing guitars from the onstage band. The continuity between scenes is also a little disjointed, with occasional gaps of silence as the band (and the audience) wait for the cast to appear on stage between scenes.

In terms of cast, Jordan William Smart takes the lead as Drew, the resident toilet cleaner who dreams of becoming a rock star. While Smart is clearly a talented actor with a killer voice, he ultimately lacks the real ‘rock edge’ required of Drew and his chemistry with Catherine Tait who plays Sherrie is a little forced at times.

Instead, Tony Finbarr-Smith steals the show as sex-crazed rock legend Stacee Jaxx, gliding through the power ballads with just the right mix of glam and gnarl, whilst relishing every opportunity to grind his hips towards the female members of the audience. Elsewhere strong support comes from Peter Norris as narrator Lonny, Sue Derrig as Justice Charlier, David Lawrence as Hertz Klineman and Josh Hankey as Franz.

A special mention must go to Sue Ness for her impressive costume design and Scenery Hire Ltd for their striking set, which makes good use of the video screen cleverly embedded in the bar design. The band – Ed Nurse, Dan Bennet, Joshua Cavanagh-Brierley, Justin Proudman and Adam Behrens – are also excellent throughout.

While SMTC’s production of ROCK OF AGES is a little rough-around-the-edges, you can’t fault the team for attempting to put together a full-on musical production that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Shame that the production couldn’t quite live up to its talented cast.

2.5 out of 5 stars

ROCK OF AGES runs at The Lowry until Saturday 18 June