Theatre Review: Rock of Ages - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Review by Graeme Shield & Anne Mackie

‘Rock of Ages’ universally conjures up images of big hair, shoulder pads, power ballads and rock giants. Not to mention, cheesy American rock hits… What better inspiration for a musical?
Based on the film of the same name, this unashamedly guilty pleasure, imported from America, paints a threadbare and generic musical theatre plot for you to follow. Chris D’Arienzo’s script doesn’t strike as particularly clever or poignant, but simply a production that does not take itself remotely seriously. The stereotypical ‘boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-finds-girl-again-marries-girl’ narrative, characteristic of the contemporary jukebox musical adds a bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’ by mocking the comedic nature of the early glam rock era. However, it should be noted that the plot is not what puts the ‘rock’ into ‘Rock of Ages’. Instead it’s the heart-pumping hits from bands including Night Ranger, Starship, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, Whitesnake, Journey and... Slade (?) that powerfully drive this musical forward. A particularly fun moment for example, was the use of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” in the show’s second act which the audience enthusiastically lapped up.
What becomes apparent as the plot unfolds is that this production is on its strongest footing when reveling in its own self-awareness and sending up musical theatre clichés, but unfortunately falters when it tries to sincerely portray the love story between the two leads. As such, the narrative isn’t particularly worth going into here – it’s served up as an excuse for a fun night for rockers, (now likely in their thirties and beyond), who want to have a great time.
The set, designed expertly by Beowulf Boritt is both clever and imaginative, complimenting the lighting (designed by Jason Lyons) which ideally evokes the powerful feel of an illustrious rock concert – prepare to have your retinas cleaned. The rock concert ambiance is further enhanced by the small onstage band (guitars, keys and percussion) who share in the limelight with extravagant electric guitar solos as supervised by MD Ethan Popp/David Gibbs.
Similar to most large scale touring productions, it’s the ensemble that ought to be credited for their irrefutably brilliant performance and commitment. A particular mention must also go to Daniel Fletcher as Dennis Dupree and Rachel McFarlane as Justice Charlier/Mamma whose vocals were undeniably epic. Or, for want of a better expression, ‘face-meltingly-good’! As the female lead, Cordelia Farnworth gave a thoroughly likeable and grounded interpretation of Sherrie but the show (pure and simply) belongs to star attraction, Noel Sullivan as Drew. Banish all thoughts of that pop band from your head, dear reader. Sullivan was truly exceptional with a vocal quality that was crisp and powerful. Both he & Farnworth make the most of what the script gives them in terms of character, but it’s likely the characters around the fringes where you’ll find the most enjoyment – Jessie May as Regina, additional headliner Ben Richards as Stacee Jaxx and Cameron Sharp as Franz excel in their roles providing the majority of laughs, thanks to their superior comedic timing.
Ultimately, the deciding factor as to whether you’ll enjoy “Rock of Ages” or not derives from your personal musical taste. Those of a more discerning theatre palate might not be rewarded as fully as they would hope from this jukebox musical. However, there’s nothing that a group of erotic rock divas (erockic, if you will), projected Californian back-drops and an array of entertainingly ironic choreography (thanks to Kelly Devine) won’t sort. If anything, this rockified musical will ‘Hit you with it’s Best Shot’, providing an all-round enjoyable night out.
Rock of Ages is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 24th May