Rock of Ages

Nov 2 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆ Codpiece rock-out

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 31 Oct – Sat 4 Nov
Review by Thom Dibdin

Big and silly, much like the hair, Allegro’s production of retro Eighties soft-rock musical Rock of Ages at the Church Hill knows how to hit the highs with ease.

This juke-box musical has an equally off-the-peg musical plot with a small town girl coming to the bright lights and finding the pavements aren’t all gold. And while Allegro might never overcome the format’s innate clunkiness, relief comes from a knowing script, excellently delivered.

Fraser Jamieson and Jennifer Lane. Pic: Sean Conner

The heart of that tongue-in-cheek delivery lies in the role of Lonny Barnett, played by Craig McKirgan, who narrates the whole thing with a nod to the pomposity inherent in the tight-trousered, cod-piece rock on display but with a cleverly constructed sense of intimacy.

Which is one of the really hard things to get right when that fourth wall is broken, making a scripted scene appear spontaneous and casual. It’s a bit like acting drunk – do it well and people will think its easy, but get it wrong and the whole thing clatters around with embarrassment.

And there is plenty of room for that in this script, to be honest, as it dwells with just a little too much relish on the full-blown sexism of the time, asking Lonny to get big laughs from such things as leering invitations for audience members to join him in the dressing room at half time.

It is funny, but in this post-Weinstein time, a couple of words ad-lib to the line about going back to a time when girls outfits were skimpy – to add that the attitudes were antediluvian – could give the whole thing a much less voyeuristic feel. The piece tacitly acknowledges – and disapproves of – the casting couch environment in Hollywood, but it would bear underlining.

well matched

The core girl-meets-boy situation is carried by Jennifer Lane as Sherrie, fresh off the bus from Kansas who has her bag stolen by a random passer-by and then her heart by Drew Boley, the wanna-be rocker who works as a busboy in a famous Hollywood Strip rock joint, the Bourbon Room.

Lyndsey McGhee, Craig McGirgan and Jonny Farley. Pic: Sean Conner

Lane nails the combination of strength which got her on the bus and innocence in the light of the big city. And Fraser Jamieson is as equally conflicted as Drew. Their acting performances ensure the love strand works easily while their voices are well matched for their duets on the likes of More than Words.

The supporting performances keep the vibe authentic. Johnny Farley as Dennis, the aged rocker owner of the Bourbon Room, sings as through he had a 60 a day fag habit and a lifetime of booze and substances of a more illicit flavour under his belt.

Every musical needs its source of jeopardy. In terms of the love-strand, it comes in the form of rock god Stacee Jaxx, who agrees to play one last gig at the Bourbon Rooms before splitting his band, Arsenal. Ross E Stewart has just the voice for Jaxx, hitting those pomp-rock high notes with ease and lifting a supercilious rock-god curling lip to sneer at all around.

In the case of the Bourbon Rooms, the jeopardy isn’t Def Leppard, who refused to licence their songs for the show, but a cliched German property developer Hertz who is intent on bribing the mayor, buying up the Strip and knocking it down to make clean, efficient living quarters.

ancient cliches

Richard Tebbutt hits all the ancient cliches of over-blown German efficiency without over-doing it as Hertz. That’s left to Stuart Williamson as his son, Franz, who doesn’t want anything to do with the development and has great fun over-playing the campiness of his character.

The finale. Pic: Sean Conner

If you are going to have a cast of skimpily clad dancers, then you better have a great choreographer to give them some moves to look at. And with Allegro newcomer Felicity Thomas, the company has struck gold in the choreography department.

There are moments of pure genius, such as when the dancers make up the car that Drew and Sherrie drive off for their first date. It is hugely effective, very well conceived and presented, helps drive the story and provides a much needed addition to what is a pretty sparse set.

Then there are the big moves for the eighties rock numbers – with the core dancers going for it while the whole ensemble, dancers or not, can keep up with the basic moves. And the dancers in the “exotic” dance club where Sherrie ends up. All choreographed to the ability of the performers and there to help deliver the story.

There are plenty of very good singers on the stage in the chorus and the named roles. And several of those in smaller roles could easily step up into principal parts. Josie Bodle as Justice, the owner of that exotic dance club, has a particularly strong and resonant voice.

clear deliver

Lyndsey McGhee plays Regina the uptight metropolitan advisor to the mayor who reveals she once followed the Dead for six months – and lets down her hair to fight the proposed demolition. She has great presence and clear deliver, making sure that her eighties jokes come across. Not something which every performer is able to do, thanks to some fairly muddy microphone set ups.

The other big drawback is the block-like format. Director Andy Johnston has created each separate scene magnificently, but they do not always flow into each other with quite the smoothness they could.

At the heart of the show, up-stage centre, is James McCutcheon and his band, with David Thomson shredding it magnificently on lead guitar when called upon to do so in the finale of Don’t Stop Believin’.

A sentiment which, those antediluvian attitudes aside, is very much at the core of this fun, energetic and excitingly choreographed production.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 31 October – Saturday 4 November 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets from:

Company website:
Facebook: /allegromusical
Twitter: @allegro_edin.


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