Ah! It’s good to step out and breathe fresh again, isn’t it? With the return to life of London’s theatres, Rock of Ages has bounded back onto the stage.
As an award-winning and iconic musical, hopes were high for this new UK tour, which leaves the New Wimbledon Theatre on the 25th of September. Packed with smash-hits from the ’80s, there’s little doubt that fists will be pumping unironically in the air as the audience is treated to the music blasting out of The Bourbon Room, the murky music venue set at the heart of the show.
Joe Gash (Strictly Come Dancing), takes the narrator’s part, Lonny, propelling us through a journey of Hollywood dreams and the exhausting hustle of those in the industry. Joe is very personable and one of the highlights of the show. With a charming grin and smouldering eyes, he’s hard not to love.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the show in general. It is packed with great talent who all play their roles admirably, but a problem lurks beneath this better-than-some jukebox musical.
Rhiannon Chesterman plays Sherrie, the small-town wanna-be who dreams of Hollywood. She encounters the handsome Drew (Luke Walsh) at The Bourbon Room and goes on to spend the remainder of the show in a cat-and-mouse game of trying to manage their feelings and their careers, all while belting out a range of fantastic romantic duets.
If all that was needed to satisfy the audience was the power of the singing, then this show can have a top rating right now. The problem that raises its head throughout the show is sexism. Rock of Ages first hit the stage in 2009, and what might have been considered tongue-in-cheek at that time has not aged well.
Take, for example, Sherrie using the power of bending over to obtain a job at the bar, or the majority of the dancers spending most of their time wearing not that much.
Sherrie and Drew are very one-dimensional creatures, and the performers struggle to bring any added depth to their characters through no fault of their own. That said, the honesty of Drew needing to hold down side-hustles (different in each half) to make ends meet seems only too real, perhaps now more so than ever in the modern gig economy.
Kevin Clifton, another Strictly Come Dancing star, plays Stacee Jaxx, a rock god. There are plenty of energetic dance moves to please the fans, but the scenes between Stacee and Sherrie push the boundaries well past “family-friendly.” Stacee tells women to f**k off or shut up while slamming doors in the faces of others.
In modern times it is very easy to be critical of a show and its portrayal of women, but the fact of the matter is that in Rock of Ages, the women are there as objects to be enjoyed, and their parts suffer as a consequence. Undoubtedly that was a part of the 80s. But with 18 months off, courtesy of Covid, the show could have been tweaked for audiences in the 2020s. Doing so could have brought this behaviour under the microscope and examined it. Instead, it is just part of the show.
It’s not the cast’s fault, nor can we criticise the staging or song choices. The performances from the remainder of the cast are good, with a memorable dance number between property developers Franz (Andrew Carthy) and Hetz (Vas Constani), with eco-warrior Regina (Gabriella Williams). A short and sweet performance by Jenny Fitzpatrick, playing Justice certainly left us wishing she had more lines.
There will always be an audience for a show full of energy, bold jokes, and some lovely moments. Questionable sexism aside, there were plenty of women in the audience having a whale of a time, but we do have to wonder whether, just like us, could the show benefit from a breath of fresh air?
Book your tickets now for the Rock of Ages 2021 and 2022 UK tour.