REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Rock Of Ages, Grand Opera House, York ****

Joe Gash’s Lonny Bartlet, left, Kevin Kennedy’s Dennis Dupree and Sam Turrell’s Drew in Rock Of Ages. Picture: The Other Richard

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

Rock of Ages cast members Phoebe Samuel-Grey, Joe Gash, Kevin Kennedy, Tianna Sealy-Jewiss and Cameron Sharp gather outside the Grand Opera House after the first night. Picture by David Harrison.

Kevin Kennedy returns to Grand Opera House as LA rock guru in Rock Of Ages

Kevin Kennedy, centre, as bar owner and rock guru Dennis Dupree in Rock Of Ages; Picture: The Other Richard

CORONATION Street legend and musician Kevin Kennedy returns to the Grand Opera House, York, from tomorrow, to reprise his role as bar owner Dennis Dupree in Rock Of Ages.

He previously appeared there in April 2019 in a musical giddy with Eighties’ rock classics, arranged and orchestrated by Ethan Popp, and now he will be joined by Cameron Sharp as demigod Stacee Jaxx in Nick Winston’s latest touring production.

“It’s incredible to be able to put your two passions together – one being of course acting and the spoken word and the other being music, which is something I’ve loved throughout my life,” says Kevin, 61, who found TV fame as Curly Watts in Corrie and has played in bands too, such as Bunch Of Thieves and The Paris Valentinos with Johnny Marr, no less.

“To put those [passions] together is a perfect marriage, and in a vehicle such as Rock Of Ages, it’s a whole lot of fun as well.”

Outlining the show’s story, set in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s with a book by Chris D’Arienzo, Kevin says: “It’s about a rock club called The Bourbon Room, which is absolutely legendary; every single band you could think of has played there.

“It’s an icon of rock’n’roll and absolutely the place to be, but the local council are attempting to close it down, so we’re fighting them. Alongside all of that, there’s a beautiful love story, lots and lots of jokes and, of course, some of the most incredible music from the Eighties like Here I Go Again, The Final Countdown and I Want To Know What Love Is.”

Those songs are played loud and proud by a live band in a show that invites audiences to “leave it all behind and lose yourself in a city and a time where the dreams are as big as the hair, and yes, they can come true”.

Within that world, Kevin’s character, The Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree, is “an absolute rock guru”. “He’s given all these now legendary bands their stars and he’s been in bands himself,” he says. “He’s also embraced the drug culture and intense sexuality of the 1980s with much enthusiasm and regularity!

“He’s a very interesting man to play: he’s got a good heart at his core, but he’s a child of his culture and loves his sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! He’s a lot of fun to play.”

“It requires a lot of energy,” says Kevin Kennedy of appearing in Rock Of Ages

Assessing the biggest differences between working in TV and the theatre world, Kevin says: “TV is a totally different skill and technique to theatre. Not least because you may put something in the can after filming and not get the payback of that for months or even years. You can almost film it and then forget about it.

“With theatre, however, it’s obviously live and live theatre is one of the last true shared experiences you can have – along with football! In the theatre, you’re all together and sharing one experience, which is happening live, right in front of you, and there’s not a lot of that left.

“That generates its own energy and excitement as no two shows are the same. The show that you come and see will never be exactly the same as that ever again, which is quite an exciting thought.”

Kevin happened to love Eighties’ rock already before doing the show. “I was a youngish man in the 1980s and not a huge fan of some dance music, so the last refuge of guitar music, to a certain extent, was that brilliant American glam rock that we showcase in Rock Of Ages. They played their own instruments and performed live on stage, so I had a huge respect for that.”

Does Kevin draw on his own experiences as a musician when faced by the challenges of performing this full-on style of music on stage? “It requires a lot of energy,” he says. “However, once the show gets going, it’s so much fun and no longer feels like work.

“Once you’ve done the hard work of learning the lines and where to stand, we’ve been allowed to just have so much fun with it. Audiences are absolutely loving it because it’s just bonkers.”

Ask him to pick a favourite moment or number in the show, and Kevin proffers: “Numerous moments! Although what I really enjoy is watching the other members of the cast doing their big solo numbers because they’re all so incredibly talented and it’s great to watch and learn from them. It’s been so lovely to see them grow into their characters from the first rehearsal through to our performances on tour now, where it all comes to fruition.”

Pressing him to name a favourite song, he decides: “Oh, the entire finale is my favourite as it’s just one big fat rock’n’roll number.”

As he heads to York, Kevin as always will be carrying a cafetière, some coffee (“obviously,” he says), his Manchester City mug and, most important of all to him, a PlayStation.

This week’s Grand Opera House audiences are in for a great time, he promises. “Whether you’re a seasoned theatregoer or you’ve never been to a show before, you’ll have a lot of fun. If you want to come dressed in your leather trousers and embrace your inner Eighties’ rock star, then do that! Even bring along an inflatable guitar if you want,” he says. “Everything is just a whole lot of fun.”

Rock Of Ages rocks out at Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

Kenny Kennedy: Actor, soap star and musician

Kevin Kennedy profile:

Born: Wythenshawe, Manchester, September 4 1961. Member of Manchester Youth Theatre; studied drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre. Made professional debut in 1982 at Greenwich Theatre, London.

Best known for soap-opera role as Norman “Curly” Watts, paperboy, dustman and supermarket assistant manager, in 1,563 episodes of Coronation Street, 1983 to 2003. Filmed scenes for 50th anniversary DVD in 2010.

West End theatre credits include: Amos in Chicago, Adelphi Theatre; ageing hippie Pop in Queen & Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre.

Played both Caractacus Potts and The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical, becoming first actor to have done so.

Played Dennis Dupree in 2018-2019 UK tour of Rock Of Ages, including at Grand Opera House, York, in April 2019. Appeared in national tours of The Rocky Horror Show, The Commitments and Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends.

Popped up as an Angel in guest role in Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special on BBC One in 2019.

Played Detective Banks in Billy Zane film Rupture in 2020.

Played bass in the band The Paris Valentinos with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, of The Smiths fame.

Signed by pop impresario Simon Cowell to BMG Records, released Present Kennedy album in 2002.