Monday, 11 February 2013

Rock of Ages - Garrick Theatre - 4th Feb

What's going down home readers?

Rock may be dead as far as the charts are concerned, but inside the Garrick theatre it's alive and melting its audiences faces off.

It's strange that it's taken me this long to venture to the Sunset Strip considering my love for both musicals and 80s 'hair metal' or 'glam rock'. To rectify this I put it at the top of my shows to be seen in 2013 list and booked straight away as part of my birthday visit.

On a cold Monday evening in February the theatre was disappointingly empty but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm and spirit of the production. Sitting in my seat there was a sense that I was in a realm somewhere between victorian theatre and sleazy rock venue. Sure enough, I was sitting in the just-this-side-of-comfortable red plush seating with the politely ornate architecture delicately decorating the balconies and pillars. Yet pounding from the speakers was Def Leppard's 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' and headbanging ushers dressed in torn up clothing thrusted bottles of booze in an airpunch to the beat.

In front of me the interior of the Bourbon Room awaits it's occupants.

I'm not sure what the atmosphere of the show was like at its former home, the Shaftesbury Theatre, but I can't help but feel the intimate nature of the Garrick will only enhance the experience as it really does feel like you're there in the Bourbon Room waiting for the gig to begin.

The band walks on stage and kicks up a small offering of 'Welcome to the Jungle' before we are thrown straight into a busy shift at the club.

In this production many of the understudies were on including Tim Driesen as Drew and Cordelia Farnworth as Sherrie, who are the central characters in this story.

There's a lot to be said for the west end's understudies. So often people seem to think they're getting a second rate performance and this just isn't the case. The understudies are well rehearsed, equally talented and, often, better than the main cast (especially where stunt casting is employed). The understudies in this show are shining examples of how great they can be.

Driesen and Farnworth portray their characters with a degree of naivety, open heartedness and vulnerability while still having that steely rockers edge and sing with fantastically strong, unwavering voices.

Leanne Garretty played the feisty Regina in this performance and bounces hilariously off Sandy Moffat's Franz.

I wasn't entirely sure about Tim Howar as Stacee Jaxx but whether this is down to performer or character, I don't know. I watched the film version before seeing the show and I think I'd like to see a portrayal of the character that's somewhere in between these two very different versions. Tom Cruise's Jaxx has far more of the untouchable rock star about him but I like the confused and bewildered characteristic of the stage show incarnation. Perhaps it's Howar himself who doesn't give off that aura of elevated idol - which given that he actually belongs to real life rock band 'Mike and the Mechanics' should come naturally.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the one who, by all other standards, would usually lurk in the shadows of the story - Simon Lipkin as Lonny/Narrator. His camp stage presence has the audience crying with laughter and anxiously awaiting his next appearance. Should the narrator character carry a show this much? in the context of this particular show - without a doubt. He's more than just a narrator, after all, he is a character in his own right with a love story of his own brewing in the sidelines.

The thing I love about Rock of Ages is that it knows that to work well, it can't take itself seriously and it completely embraces this. Chris D'Arienzo has written a book that's so tongue in cheek that it mocks it's own story.

A serious night at the theatre this ain't. It's a rip roaring night of fun and air guitars, so don your big hair wigs, put on lashings of eyeliner, tear up your theatre attire and start headbanging in the aisles - whether you were there in the 80s or not, this show'll transport you straight back to a simpler but by no means quieter time.

If you'd like more information or want to book tickets, please go to the official website 

While writing this review I got sidetracked by the song 'To Be With You' which had a strange resonance with me. I listened to the original on youtube and still had this weird feeling. Then it hit me - it was a song on one of the first albums I ever owned, 'Now 21' 21 years ago when I was 8! It was, obviously, on cassette and I had listened to it over and over. It just goes to show the power that music holds - so many years later it still managed to evoke a memory of the emotions I felt at the time. Suddenly, this feels like a very long time ago and I feel old - and nostalgic.

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