Firstly I have never been a Shayne Ward fan – at all. I didn’t vote for him on the X-factor, and I’ve only ever liked one of his singles (but not quite enough to buy it) so watching him playing at being a rock-start seemed like I would be wasting two precious hours of my life
Secondly, I don’t particularly consider myself to possess any knowledge of the ‘rock’ genre, so I had concerns that I would be unable to relate to the songs and the story. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to musicals and normally I would opt to see Les Miserables or Wicked (which I have yet to see) rather than a show about the decline of a musical genre about which I know very little.
Having said that, my last trip to the theatre had been to see Love Never Dies which had been diabolical, so I figured a change is as good as a rest.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised by Rock of Ages would be an understatement. I was stunned by just how wrong my preconceptions had been. Somehow I seemed to know the majority of the words, to all of the songs. In fact this is one of the things that made the musical so great. It’s not written for the hard-core rock fans, but includes music that you instinctively know whether you are a rock fan or not. Songs such as ‘Come on feel the noise’ ‘We built this city’ and most importantly Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’ had the entire theatre on their feet singing.
What’s more for those who ever had any doubts, Rock of Ages acts as conclusive proof of Shayne Ward’s talent as a musical performer. Throughout the production he doesn’t just look like a rock- star he both acts and sings like one with his performance of ‘Dead or Alive’ being almost good enough to give Jon Bon Jovi a run for his money. Both the male and female leads are also fantastic and even Justin Lee-Collins, who has him-self admitted to struggling with the dance moves, is surprisingly good.
However the award for best performance must go to Simon Lipkin for his role as Lonny. Like the rest of the cast he had a fantastic voice, but it was his physical timing, quick wit and ability to indecently flirt with members of the audience in the stalls in such a hilarious manner which made him stand out as being nothing short of a comic genius.
There is something refreshing about Rock of Ages in that it doesn’t particularly take itself seriously as a piece of theatre. It is a musical which relies on traditional sitcom or pantomime techniques breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience to great comic effect. The first act ends with a full cast performance of ‘Here I go again’ purely and simply because a book called ‘Musicals for Dummies’ dictates that the first act should end with ‘an upbeat number and jazz hands.’ At one point two of the characters even start flogging programmes from the stage (although I’m uncertain as to whether his bit was improvised or pre-planned).
Over the past year I have seen many musicals in the West End, but I have only had an itching desire to see two of them again. Les Miserables is the first of these, but Rock of Ages comes a very close second. I only hope that its run at Shaftsbury Avenue Theatre goes “on and on and on and on…”