Last week I went to see the West End musical Rock of Ages. It’s taken me this long to get my thoughts together, and even now I am not sure I’ll be able to do it justice. I’m just not sure if it was any good. Or if, in fact, it was a masterpiece (no, actually, I am pretty sure it wasn’t that), or great campy fun, or mostly a bit shit, or really just flat out offensive. This is what happens when you go to see a show based purely on what songs are going to be in it, and don’t bother to look at the actual plot. Here I can save you that mistake:
A struggling musician (Drew) meets a struggling actress (Sherrie) on the Sunset Strip at some point in the 1980s. They both work in a bar owned by Dennis Dupree (who seems to be stuck in hippie land), develop feelings for each other based on one lame conversation, but end up in the Friend Zone. She sleeps with a rocker (Stacee Jaxx), Drew gets mad, they both make bad career choices and go their separate ways. And there are strippers. And Germans. Protests. Angels. We Built This City. White Snake. A host of other 80s songs and a random award-giving moment. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier a man rips off his suit and does a Jane Fonda routine.
The main problem I had was the offensiveness. I know it’s set in the 80s and therefore we should excuse all this because ‘we didn’t know any better’ (or at least that’s what I assume they’re going for), but it goes from bits I just rolled my eyes at to points where I wasn’t sure if walking out would be the best thing to do. Firstly, there’s the women. So, we’re on the Sunset Strip, it’s not going to be all squeaky clean, but every single one of them is in teeny tiny underwear and writhing across anything that’s stationary (oh I suppose there is one woman who isn’t, the protestor, who is also oddly a hippie). Have you seen Bring It On? You know the bit where they’re doing the tryouts and that girl in red leather hot pants comes in and kicks off her shoes and then shoves her butt in that male cheerleader’s face? Every woman dresses and moves like that in this show. And then there’s the Germans, who are stereotyped to the point of farce, with one who reminded me of Serge from Beverly Hills Cop, but not quite as fabulous. Only remember, he’s not gay, he’s just German.
There is a truly horrible bit where Drew and Sherrie are on a picnic, just before they hit the Friend Zone, and Sherrie is just sitting talking, and the narrator says ‘She may be saying that, but what she’s really thinking is this!’ And up jumps Sherrie, ripping off her shirt to writhe across the hood of Drew’s car like Jessica Simpson and then dry humps Drew’s leg. I don’t care if this is the 80′s, can we not continue to send the message that what a woman says and what a woman means are not the same thing? That actually she is begging for it 24/7? Or, later, that if a rock star acts lonely and misunderstood she will shag him in a bathroom stall, because she’s just that stupid? The women do not get a good rap in this show. It felt like it was written by a 15 year old boy. Or a 40 year old man who can’t get over being a 15 year old boy.
And then there’s the continued randomness of it all. The award moment for one, and at times people showed up in the chorus line I swear we’d never seen, often dressed in bizarre costumes that had nothing to do with the plot. Like the English policeman and the clown/John Wayne Gacey. I went positively hysterical at one point when Dennis and Lonny share a moment over a smoke machine that takes them on a tour of various landmarks. I think my brain had got to the point where it just did not know how to process everything any more, or whether my body wanted to laugh or cry, so it did both. This show is everything AND the kitchen sink, and it doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it breaks ALL THE WALLS! I did however quite enjoy my ‘lighter’ I got on entry to wave when the sad songs played. But basically this is a ‘story’ that has been thrown together much like Mamma Mia!, written to fit around the songs, but with Bon Jovi instead of Abba.
OK, so…good stuff? Even though he was kind of the biggest culprit when it came to being offensive, I sort of loved the narrator, Lonny. The guy playing him was obviously having the best time, and he did get to do some genuinely funny bits. He had a good voice and moves and was definitely entertaining. And the guy playing Drew had a phenomenal voice. The cast did a brilliant version of Here I Go Again on My Own, which almost made the whole thing worthwhile.
I did not like Sherrie though. It’s hard to when she’s blonde and perky and has a squeaky voice and no personality to speak of, dressed up in tiny outfits. She’s given almost nothing to do except gyrate. I imagine I am supposed to feel sorry for her at certain points in the show, but I just couldn’t find it in me. Oh, and all the American accents, as is usual with West End shows it seems, were DREADFUL.
I obviously can’t call this a ringing endorsement, but I wouldn’t say you should definitely not go and see it. Most of the audience seemed to be having a brilliant time. I’m just not convinced.