Rock of Ages at Sunderland Empire: Nothin’ But A Good Time
Last night, on July 23rd, Sunderland Empire welcomed me into experiencing another one of their immersive productions, this production being the infamous musical Rock of Ages.
Brought to the stage by Dan Looney, Adam Paulden, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Selladoor Worldwide and Gavin Kalin, Rock of Ages follows aspiring rockstar Drew Boley (Luke Walsh), who is working as a busboy at The Bourbon Room on Sunset Boulevard. Drew’s life changes when he meets Sherrie Christian (Jodie Steele), a starry-eyed young woman from a small town in Kansas, who has moved to Hollywood with hopes of becoming an actress. Sherrie’s goals are soon compromised when she is mugged, leaving her with no money or resources. Upon learning of her troubles, Drew takes it upon himself to get Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room after convincing bar owner Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) and his assistant Lonny (Lucas Rush). Over their shared goals to make it big in Hollywood, a mutual attraction begins to manifest between Drew and Sherrie. Elsewhere, a war begins to escalate between Sunset Strip’s city developer Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman) and two German developers, Franz and Hertz (Andrew Carthy and Vas Constanti), who wish to demolish the strip that breeds a “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll lifestyle”.
From the get-go, this musical is highly energetic and inclusive. The show begins with the classic number “Feel the Noize“, inviting all members of the audience to clap along before diving into “Paradise” and “Good Time“, which successfully sets up the unremitting wild ride that the show comes to be. One of the most impressive aspects of the show was undoubtably the set design that was cultivated by Morgan Large. The set is made up of signs that state to the audience that they are in Sunset Boulevard, but under the signs, the sets swiftly change from the Bourbon Room, to the Venus strip lounge, to the Mayor’s office, and many more locations which adds authenticity to the show.
The vocals were incredibly strong amongst the cast, one of the most impressive vocals being that of Strictly Come Dancing star Kevin Clifton, who plays the washed-up rockstar Stacee Jaxx. Clifton’s background in dancing was really effective for his character’s musical numbers, as he effortlessly swayed his hips into sexual gestures. Clifton’s performance was arguably just as impressive as Tom Cruises’ in the film version of Rock of Ages, so much so that I found myself craving more stage time for his rendition of Stacee. Jodie Steele was impressive as Sherrie, bringing both a naivety and child-like sweetness to her role. Luke Walsh simultaneously brought swagger and shyness to the role of Drew, producing some good vocals along the way. Kevin Kennedy is charming and witty as Dennis, and his vocals were just as impressive as that of Kevin Clifton. Pop Idol‘s Zoe Birkett plays Justice, owner of Venus, a strip club that Sherrie ends up working in when she loses her job at The Bourbon Room. Birkett’s vocals are excellent, and she brings a sass to Justice that is similar to Mary J Blige’s portrayal. The acting amongst all the cast is impressive, however these actors stood out most to me.
Rock of Ages is a truly feel-good experience, and the laughs are unremitting. The narrator of the show, Lonny (Lucas Rush), managed to summon an engaging response from the audience, who were never short on amusement. Although most of the jokes were funny, at times the comedic aspect did feel forced and unnecessary. The caricature approach of the German developers can feel like a little much, but the show more than makes up for it with the with great production and performances. Ryan-Lee Seager must be acknowledged for his superb choreography, and Nick Winston for his directing. The show ran smoothly, and the effort from everyone involved in the production does not go unnoticed.
The musical numbers are the most enjoyable aspect of the show, and made myself desperate to sing along (which I did!). The stand-out numbers for me were “Dead or Alive”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It“, “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” (Kevin Kennedy and Lucas Rush give some of the best harmonies my ears have bare witness to) and it goes without saying, Don’t Stop Believin’. The final number had every member of the audience on their feet clapping and singing in unison, which ended the show on a euphoric note for all who attended.
I would highly recommend Rock of Ages at the Sunderland Empire. Funny, charming, thrilling and a stellar cast.
Rock of Ages is showing at Sunderland Empire from the 23rd-27th of July.