Rock of Ages – Darlington Hippodrome

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Author: Chris D’Arienzo

Arranger and orchestrator: Ethan Popp

Director and choreographer: Nick Winston

Part rock concert, part burlesque show, part pantomime, and taking the excesses and bad fashion decisions of the 1980s to extremes, Rock of Eternity is as subtle as a step in the crotch.

With a simple fairytale story, many breakthroughs of the fourth wall, many self-referential jokes and actors who regularly step out of the role, Rock of Eternity is as close to a musical theater equivalent of Panto as anything else. However, the tight costumes, the rough humor and a touch of misogyny and racism in the (admittedly often funny) script are definitely not for the little ones. Nevertheless, there is a lot to enjoy here – in a kind of bachelorette party.

The story follows the small town boy and girl Drew and Sherrie, who meet in the big city – Los Angeles – and fall in love, fall in love again, and fall in love again. Meanwhile, an evil developer is threatening to demolish the Sunset Strip and destroy the city’s heritage, particularly the Bourbon Room, a filthy music club with a rich history. This is all accompanied by classic 1980s rock songs and includes everything that is big and loud about the era.

The name on the marquee for this production is Strictly speaking Kevin Clifton as famous rocker Stacee Jaxx. The role is little more than an extended cameo, and while Clifton shows great talent overall in all departments, he feels he is wrongly cast in the role that may require a taller and more imposing height. Rhiannon Chesterman is a lovable, sassy Sherrie who still manages to deliver emotion when it’s needed, and Luke Walsh does well in the extremely signed role of Drew, delivering impressive vocals. Joe Gash plays Lonny, the narrator and presenter of the evening. Gash brings a lot of energy and extravagance to the table, but a unanimous sing-song line often makes his presence annoying, unhappy when this is the most busy character and has the best lines. Ross Dawes brings a bit of subtlety as the aging hippie bar owner Dennis, and although he gets lost in the noise at first, he quickly establishes himself as one of the stronger performers here. Far from subtle, but just as impressive, is Vas Constanti as the German villain Hertz, and even more unheard of is Andrew Carthy, who pretty much steals the show as Franz and delivers the extremely silly hit Me With Your Best Shot together with Gabriella Williams’ Regina. Jenny Fitzpatrick as Justice brings some soul (in more ways than one) to the action and stops the show singing on Any Way You Want It.

The fixed set is reminiscent of a rock concert with simple additions to indicate a change of scene. This results in a fairly smooth pace that never fades, although the constant presence of a huge screen above the set that is never used is puzzling. There are lots of impressive lighting effects to see and while there are some amusing (scripted) issues with lighting cues and positioning, there were also plenty of unscripted lighting errors at the press launch, which appear to be due to carelessness or lack of rehearsal. Musically the show is great and the small but talented band is clearly having fun. However, when musicians are having fun, their volume tends to increase and the show becomes plagued with tonal balance issues, especially in the many scenes where dialogue is underlined.

This production of Rock of Eternity is eye-catching and fun, but also feels a little hollow and expendable. But even the most cynical viewers will be swept away by the show’s glorious finale to Journeys Don’t Stop Believing.

Runs until 27NS November 2021


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