Only two weeks ago the New Wimbledon Theatre, opening at last after so many months of ‘restrictions’, was packed with fans of the musical Waitress, and this week the excitement and relief at being back in the theatre for a live show was just as palpable. Last night Rock of Ages opened to another (nearly) full house, with a winning combination of brilliant singing and dancing, an excellent band, and an enthusiastic audience who were on their feet by the end of the show. Not surprising, as the songs were a string of hits from the 1970s and 1980s, and you didn’t have to be as old as this reviewer to enjoy them!
Do people still have maiden aunts? If so, don’t take them to this show, because it is very naughty. It is set in Los Angeles’ louche Sunset Strip at the height of the excesses of Glam Rock, and features a music venue based on the famous Whisky-a-Go-Go (with ‘exotic’ go-go dancers) and a ‘gentlemen’s club’ (where scantily clad young ladies also pander to gentlemen’s pleasure). The ensemble dancing is terrific, and the four female dancers are ‘fit’ in every sense of the word. A tabloid newspaper once invited male readers to vote for the female celebrity whom they considered to posses the most attractive derrière. The competition was won by Kylie Minogue, but if a similar competition had been held last night, it would have been very hard to choose among the bootylicious gyrations of the gluteus maximus on display.
But all tastes are catered for. There is an outrageously camp narrator/commentator, an imp of mischief who moves the action along and provides many an innuendo along the way. With his high-pitched voice and over-the-top cavorting, he almost steals the show. Over the top, literally, goes the grizzled and seemingly not light-footed proprietor of the louche bar. Clad in a John Mayall style jacket (how many of you can remember that?), he vaults over the bar counter and performs somersaults. There is an hilarious turn from a young German who evinces all the mannerisms of a stereotypical gay man – but there is a twist at the end. He is also ridiculed for being German. The Germans are one of the few national or ethnic groups that people can still ridicule nowadays, and get away with it.
For admirers of the more mature woman, there is a stunning performance from Jenny Fitzpatrick as the madame of the gentlemen’s club, with big hair à la Tina Turner, and a voice to match. Of course, at the heart of the show is a boy-girl love story with the usual ups and downs – but rescued by the glorious singing of the two leads. Luke Walsh can sustain a note for longer than I would have thought possible. The story really doesn’t matter much anyway. The excellent band are playing nearly all the time, so that the dialogue is often hard to catch, and the music is so loud that the words of the songs can often be missed. But that didn’t curb the audience’s enthusiasm. If you’ve ever wondered who those people are who greet things they like on the stage with whoops of Whooo!! Whoooo!!! – well, they seemed to be all around me. There were special whoops for the two guitarists in the band, who came to the front of the stage and did a turn for all the world like Status Quo (though they are perhaps a bit younger).
Your reviewer is, alas, as old as Status Quo, but has not lost his appreciation for well-played electric guitars. And there is even some nice acoustic work. Never mind the plot (which your reviewer lost at an early point). This show is a music-and-dance fest that puts the ‘live’ into live theatre!
- Book by Chris D’Arienzo
- Arrangements and Orchestrations by Ethan Popp
- Director & Choreographer : Nick Winston Featuring Kevin Clifton, Luke Walsh, Rhiannon Chesterman, Joe Gash
- Produced by the DLAP Group
- Cast includes: Kevin Clifton, Luke Walsh, Rhiannon Chesterman, Joe Gash
- The New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: Saturday 25th September 2021
- Time : 7.30 p.m Running time : 2½ hours (including interval)