Rock of Ages, Mayflower, Southampton, REVIEW: 'Often quite hysterical'

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages
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IT was the era of heavy eye-liner, lipstick, hairspray – enough to carve a massive hole in the ozone layer  – and spandex. And that was just the blokes.

Poison, Twisted Sister, Europe, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake – all major players of the glam metal scene that was so popular back in the 1980s.

Zoe Birkett as Justice

Zoe Birkett as Justice

History has not been kind to those bands, even though they once sold tens of millions of records worldwide. It is not cool any more to publicly admit to liking “hair metal” - in fairness, perhaps it never was.

But I do not care one iota. Perhaps I’m not cool, but if that’s the case then neither were the hundreds of music fans at Southampton’s Mayflower last night for the opening night of Rock of Ages - returning to the Hampshire venue for the first time since September 2014.

A love story set on Sunset Strip in 1980s LA – spiritual home of glam metal – the show features over 20 classic songs from those gloriously un-PC times.

Starring Tom Cruise, the film Rock of Ages premiered in 2012. But it was the theatre show, which debuted in – where else? – LA’s Hollywood Boulevard in 2005, that spawned the film, rather than the other way around.

Lucas Rush as Lonny

Lucas Rush as Lonny

If you’ve seen the film – also starring Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alec Baldwin – don’t expect a mirror image production. The general storyline might be similar, but there are different songs, different characters (including a German father and son pairing to make today’s snowflake generation wince) and wonderfully choreographed dance routines.

And many more laughs, from start to finish. Last night was regularly funny, and often quite hysterical.

The two best-known performers are undoubtedly reigning Strictly champion Kevin Clifton and soap legend (don’t giggle, he is!) Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts in Corrie from 1983-2003).

Clifton looks a little like early era Axl Rose in his portrayal of 80s glam metal lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Cruise’s role in the film), while Kennedy adds an impressive, though given his background slightly surreal, dose of extra humour in taking on Baldwin’s Sunset Strip club owner character Dennis Dupree.

Kevin Clifton as Stacee Jaxx

Kevin Clifton as Stacee Jaxx

The two main characters are frustrated rocker Drew Boley (stand-in Josh Dewer) who eventually falls in love with Sherrie Christian (Jodie Steele), a young wannabe singer from the mid-West who moves to LA to find her fame and fortune. Long blonde hair, long legs - straight out a 1980s LA video, therefore.

Both turned in strong performances, easily carrying off the soaring choruses and power ballads so loved by the hair metal heroes of three decades ago.

But last night’s undoubted star was Lucas Rush as Lonny, who in addition to being Dennis’ sidekick also acted as narrator. His performance was hilarious from the first guitar riff to the last and deserving of a wider audience.

But there were many performances worthy of mention - including ex-Pop Idol star Zoe Birkett’s superb vocals as strip club owner Justice and Rhiannon Chesterman as Regina, the quirky leader of the protest movement aiming to stop the Germans from bulldozing the entire Strip and replacing rock (music) with concrete.

Lucas Rush and Kevin Kennedy

Lucas Rush and Kevin Kennedy

The soundtrack was superb, with ballads (More Than Words, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Dead or Alive) and full-on rockers (The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again, We Built This City) to get the audience singing along to.

WARNING! This show is not for the feminist brigade - there is a lot of female lingerie and flesh on show - and not really for anyone easily offended by German stereotypes. Or just easily offended. Oh, and stay well away if you haven’t got a sense of humour.

But for those, like me, who still whack the radio volume up on hearing The Final Countdown’s keyboard intro, this is for you. And if you want to see a Strictly star riding a llama Bernie Clifton-style or Curly Watts belting out an REO Speedwagon favourite, likewise. 

Back in the 80s, Poison - the glammiest of the glam metal bands - released Nothin’ But A Good Time.

Come on, sing along to the chorus - I know you want to.

‘Don't need nothin' but a good time -  How can I resist - Ain't lookin' for nothin' but a good time - And it don't get better than this.’

Rhiannon Chesterman, centre, as Regina

Rhiannon Chesterman, centre, as Regina

And last night, if you really wanted a good time, it didn’t.

Until Saturday.

Lucas Rush and Kevin Kennedy

Lucas Rush and Kevin Kennedy