THE last time Rock Of Ages stuck its salacious tongue into both cheeks in York in 2019, a fire prevented the Wednesday show from taking place.
This time, the deliriously daft, self-mocking shock-rock musical is even hotter, saucier too, in Nick Winston’s 2022 direction and choreography: a lewd and loud show to make the woke vigilantes choke and everyone else laugh and scream.
York audiences love its big, brash, kiss-butt comedy, its ballsy attitude, as it time-travels back to the Sunset Strip bars of the mid-Eighties’ Los Angeles on a surfeit of anthemic poodle-rock guilty pleasures, from We Built This City to I Want To Know What Love Is, The Final Countdown to Every Rose Has Its Thorn.
Rock Of Ages is drawing the crowds once more on its fourth Grand Opera House staging in eight years, with Saturday’s finale sold out already, and if the cost-of-living crisis is seeing such one-nighters as Aggers And Cook’s cricket chat on Monday being called off, audiences will still turn out for the big hitters.
Musicals, in particular, and they don’t come cheesier or cheekier than this Broadway jukebox one, with its knowing, rebellious book by Chris D’Arienzo, as he sends up stereotypes galore, both male and female. All roads lead to the exuberant rock arrangements and orchestrations of American AOR radio smashes by Ethan Popp, and they really do snap, crackle and Popp.
Everything in Winston’s direction and choreography has a sure touch, typified by the hell-for-leather first-half finale, Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, and the show-closing Don’t Stop Believin’, the Sweet Caroline of rock.
Duncan McLean’s video and projection design, Morgan Large’s era-evoking fabulous, fun and fruity costume designs and Bourbon Room bar interior, Ben Cracknell’s lighting and especially Ben Harrison’s on-the-button sound designs add panache and swagger, as does Liam Holmes’s characterful band.
For any newcomers, Rock Of Ages is a satirical tale of the crash and burn of rock demigod Stacee Jaxx (Cameron Sharp), but rather than a cautionary tale of the dangers of excess, it is a caution-to-the-wind retort.
Stud Stacee’s rampant ego has outgrown his band Arsenal and his kiss-off will be a final basement gig back at the Bourbon Room as a favour to veteran bar owner Dennis Dupree (Corrie legend Kevin Kennedy’s amusingly ornery old hippie rocker).
Sunset Strip is losing its lustre (but not its lust), so Dennis could soon be put out of joint by ruthless German developer Hertz Klinemann (Vas Constanti, reprising his 2019 role) and his desperate-to-break-out-of-his-shadow son Franz (a scene-stealing David Breeds, fresh from his lead role in the National Theatre’s tour of The Curious Incident In The Night-Time, now revealing a Norman Wisdom/Lee Evans talent for physical comedy).
Nothing against Sharp’s egotistical jerk Stacee Jaxx (fine rock voice, quick to send himself up) but the one pulling the strings and receiving the biggest cheers is Joe Gash’s narrator cum “dramatic conjuror”, Lonny Bartlet.
Always the best role, Gash takes it to new heights as he steers both cast and audience, reminiscent of a meddlesome Shakesperean Fool, but much funnier and funkier too in his debunking of all around him. A loose cannon, yes, but he constantly hits the target in tearing down theatre’s fourth wall, making a play for Charlie in the front row and stepping out of the plot to pass comment.
His confessional duet with his Bourbon Room boss (Kennedy), I Can’t Fight This Feeling, is the show’s giddiest high.
Amid all the sex & drugs & rock’n’roll, Rock Of Ages shows another side to the Los Angeles experience, in the shape two innocents abroad with lessons to learn fast in love and life.
Sam Turrell has the straight-man role of sweet wannabe rock star/songwriter Wolfgang/Bourbon Room loo cleaner Drew Boley. Is he just too darn reserved to assert himself with Gabriella Williams’s Sherrie Christian, a naive wannabe “actress”, fresh up from the Mid-West to dream the Hollywood dream, only to end up as a stripper? Both are terrific in the show’s will-they, won’t-they love story.
Rock Of Ages shakes it dumb-ass, rather than its finger, at all that Eighties’ hedonism and sexism in LA’s exploitative rock scene and film world, but it shakes it with sass.
Behind all the bravado and cheek, smartness shows its face to make points about cynical property acquisitors and false rock gods, although everyone eventually succumbs to the frenetic comic looning, from Constanti’s Klinemann to Vicki Manser’s Save The Strip protestor, Regina Koontz.
Gash’s Lonny would probably pour scorn on such seriousness in a review, and it’s true, I can’t fight this feeling any more, Rock Of Ages is, above all, a big popcorn rush of a rocktastic musical theatre trip to Eighties’ heaven and hell.
Rock Of Ages, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight until Saturday, plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/york