Shaftesbury Theatre in London
“Ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time, and it don’t get better than this”
Back in the sexy big haired decade that was the eighties, a boy and girl dream of breaking into the rock music scene, and into each other’s hearts: awww. The bar/hub of rock music they currently work at is being threatened by evil German (of course) property developers. The owner has a plan to raise enough money to keep the bar but it depends on the getting unmanageable rock star Stacee Jaxx to perform.
Setting the right tone for a serious musical is hard. Setting the tone for a fun musical is easier but I’m still impressed when it’s completely perfected as it was in Rock of Ages. The theatre has panties and bras hanging from the chandelier, there are street signs surrounding the stage and they hand out little fake lighters that you can hold up for the slow songs. The usual announcement to turn off all phones is made by David Coverdale from White Snake and he concedes that you can use recording equipment if “you’re incredibly hot and willing to show us your breasts.” After an overture of classic guitar riffs, the Narrator Lonny bursts onto the stage and begins to describe the sunset strip in the eighties in all its glory. ‘Just Like Livin’ in Paradise’ provides every audience member with the feeling of awesomeness a show like this requires. So now the audience is feeling the eighties and the comedy of men trying to see breasts, but what of the plot and characters?
Using various rock songs prevents the plot and characters from being overly original but this allows them to humorously embrace the clichés and integrate the songs better. Lonny may be no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim (his words) but he knows that the cute boy character Drew must have a cute girl love interest which leads to the introduction of Sherrie. Combining some dialogue with the opening of ‘Sister Christian’ we get the background information that Sherrie dreams of being a rock singer and has unsupportive parents. By the time the first chorus starts, she’s in LA looking for her start. That character has been done but now we get the gist of her quickly (think how long it took to get to that stage of the plot in Coyote Ugly or Burlesque) and through the medium of song (as is fitting in a musical). Take note Mama Mia: this is how a jukebox musical is done.
The show keeps up an amazingly high energy and the characters fill it with so many little gags. Driving to his date with Sherrie Drew flips off another driver, still singing ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’. Lonny makes an eighties reference and tells the young people in the front row to google it. Sherrie’s feet stick up over the toilet cubicle in which she’s having sex with Stacee Jaxx. That’s right, Drew friend zones himself and then gets jealous when she sleeps with someone else. The show touches on life lessons like that.
The love story is intertwined with the plot of Germans who want to close rock music haven The Bourbon Room to put up expensive housing. Opposing this take over is Regina who sings some good songs but is annoying and her whiny voice gives no power to ‘We’re Not Gonna Take it.’ The German’s campiness can be a little over the top, culminating in ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ performed in a bright pink leotard. The bromance between Lonny and Dennis as they struggle to save the Bourbon Room also culminates in a camp number: ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’ describes a friendship of such magnitude, that it breaks the man laws of not discussing emotions or hugging other men.
The costumes, hair and make-up all scream eighties and the choreography nails all the fist pumping, foot stomping moves of the time. Particularly inventive is the dance sequence for ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You/Heat of the Moment.’ Sherrie has been fired after her affair with Stacee Jaxx and unfriended by the jealous Drew. Now stripping in a gentleman’s club, she is requested to dance by none other than Stacee himself and decides takes her anger out by beating him up him during the strip tease. I decided to see this show after finding out that Adam Shankman would be making it into a film, ironically finding out how good the show was made me more excited for what would ultimately be a slow and convoluted film adaptation. There’s a level of corniness that film isn’t prepared to do, nor were they prepared to let Tom Cruise play the bumbling supporting character Stacee Jaxx is in the show. The ultimate problem of the film was its inability to recreate the mood that the show produced; that almost indefinable quality on-stage will keep it going long after the film version is forgotten.