DANCELIFE HEARTS MUSICAL THEATRE – Rock of Ages1In July of last year I fell in love. It was one of the most spontaneous and unexpected experiences I’ve had in my life to date but every second of this romance was filled with passion and a need for more. I’m talking about the 9 days I spent in New York during my first trip to the land of the bright lights AKA Broadway. Some people would say that I’m a little bit of a musical theatre junkie and others say I’m just a little crazy. Yes, I do have musical theatre soundtracks playing in my car (In The Heights was the CD of choice this morning) and I will work out to some Legally Blonde the Musical at the gym but there is nothing better than seeing talented performers on stage belting out numbers from great musical theatre shows. You can only imagine how stoked I was when I organised a trip to Melbourne to see some Musical Theatre!
Over the weekend DanceLife visited the forever creative and cultural Australian state of Melbourne. The inconsistent place of weather is known more recently for nabbing the opening of new shows over Sydney which was the case as Saturday night was the opening night for Rock of Ages. The red carpet was out and the rain was coming down but there was no way that anything was going to alter the pumped vibe in the room. From the moment we walked into the theatre’s foyer which was packed with hoards of people hanging out the front to grab a glimpse of Melbourne celebrities (Eddie McGuire) to the time we took our seats there was a real buzz throughout the whole place. People were genuinely excited to be there, I’m sure the free laser light you received when you walked in the door as well as the fact that they take drink orders from your seat added to the excitement.
The band took their place on the stage which was set inside an old rockers pub and they started playing. The crowd in all their glory were screaming and wooing and best of all the music was LOUD. There is nothing better than feeling the vibration from the music through your body although some others might have said too loud. This jukebox musical has all the big rock songs from the 80’s and starts with a medley comprising of Cum On Feel The Noize, Living In Paradise and Nothinʼ But A Good Time. This energetic number is performed by the cast and really sets the mood for the night – pure rock and roll. Rock of Ages really does stand in a different sphere compared the other shows currently touring in Australia and it’s unconventional structure relies heavily on humor conveyed through the script, character direction and choreography. This is ascertained early in the show when we are introduced to the Narrator ‘Lonny’ played by WAAPA graduate Brent Hill. Lonny’s is there for us throughout the whole show keeping the audience on top of the not so complex story line. Brent’s comedic timing and characterisation is simply flawless.
DANCELIFE HEARTS MUSICAL THEATRE – Rock of Ages2While the storyline is very basic and has no real depth at all the show recognises this and spends quite a large amount of the night poking fun at itself. As we start to get of feel of where the show is headed we realise that it’s your typical boy (Drew, Justin Burford) meets girl (Sherrie, Amy Lehamer), he wants to be a rock star and she wants to be the next big actress in Hollywood. While the love story is unfolding the pub run by the owner Dennis (Anthony Harkin) where Lonny and Drew work is being threatened as a local developer Hertz (David Whitney) is going to redevelop the strip that the pub is on and wants to knock it down so they need to do something quick to save it!
I saw Rock of Ages in New York last year and one aspect of the show that was dramatically different which made a huge impact on the experience was the ensemble cast. The Australian ensemble cast of this show was phenomenal and I was most impressed by the younger cast with a special mention going to 18 year old Sam Hagen (Waitress #1) and Alexander Ellis (Joey Primo/Sleazy Producer). Keep your eyes and ears out for these two as you will be hearing a lot more from them. I could really tell that the creative team spent time and energy rehearsing and working with their cast as well as the cast obviously working their butts off!
When looking for a solution to save the pub the light bulb finally goes off and they decide to call up lead singer of Arsenal Stacee Jaxx (Michael Falzon) to have the band perform their final show there. Stacee Jaxx is your typical self obsessed, womanizing rockstar. Michael plays this role with a sexual energy and commanding presence that truly captures every aspect of the character. Dead or Alive is the first song we hear from Michael which he delivers with a watertight vocal.
Throughout the first half we hear Drew (Justin) and Sherrie (Amy) sing a number of songs from I Wanna Rock, More Than Words to I Wanna Know What Love Is. There is no denying that lead singer from the group End of Fashion Justin Burford who plays Drew was a casting agents dream when he walked into the room. He portrays drew’s slightly awkward and shy character to a tea which is backed up by his killer rock voice. 8 shows a week for this rocker is going to be tough but his effortless skill and commitment will get him through it. Amy compliments Justin throughout the show and adds a fresh element to the production.
Act One finishes with the classic rock song Here I Go Again by Whitesnake, another number full of high energy dance and stellar rock vocals. Choreographer of the moment Kelly Devine had more to work with in this production of the show as they pumped up the ensemble cast and boy numbers sure made a difference in this show. Kelly’s choreography sits well with the entire cast and the ensemble girls really eat it up… literally.
My favourite song from the entire show is the one that opens Act Two – The Final Countdown. The last half of the show is all about saving the pub from demolition through protesting and trying to turn around the bad guy (Hertz) and make him see that the pub has a place on the strip. We also get to know more about Regina (Francine Cain) and Franz (Lincoln Hall) in this act. Regina is the feisty and passionate fighter who will stop at nothing to save the strip and Franz is the over the top, camp, German son of Hertz who just wants to go back home and work in his confectionary store. Franz is such a likeable character in the show and his moment in the limelight surely comes when he strips off his suit to display a lycra outfit (think wrestling uniform) and busts out into Hit Me With Your Best Shot. From start to finish the crowd are in hysterics.
During the whole ‘Oh no our pub is going to be demolished’ Drew and Sherrie are going through their own rollercoaster which lands Drew being signed up to a dodgy agent and Sherrie becoming a stripper. The plot of the relationship alongside the pub closing down work quite seamlessly with each other but to be honest there is nothing difficult to comprehend nor unexpected that happens throughout the show plot wise.
When all seems to be lost and Lonny and Dennis have a hysterical moment together with a fog machine while singing and dancing to I Can’t Fight This Feeling. This performance is the most memorable duo of the night and the performance chemistry between the two is brilliant. Anthony Harkin who throws on the wig for Dennis was another great casting choice. While most of his rehearsal time may have consisted him perfecting the hair toss he is right on the money every time he appears on stage and is everything you would imagine a pub owner from that time to be like.
What we have grown and expect from a musical is a happy ending and you won’t be disappointed. The finale is a great sing along that most people born from the mid 80’s to now think was a GLEE original song but it’s the classic Don’t Stop Believin by Journey. The crowd are still awake and full of energy as they dance in their seats and release their inner rockstar. The cast end the show looking proud and obviously on a high as the gold glitter guns burst into the audience.
Rock of Ages is an uplifting, hilarious and exhilarating show that is sure to have you singing along and punching your fist in the air. If you’re looking for a good time get yourself (and ladies your boyfriends and husbands) a ticket to this show.
After the show we all headed to the after party which is where the real inner rockstars came out to play. Unfortunately there will be no review on this part of the evening.
Stay tuned later in the week for our next Melbourne show experience which was the bright lights and fumigated production of Hairspray!
That’s all for now!