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REVIEW: Rock of Ages at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Rock of Ages 

Newcastle Theatre Royal 

Until Saturday 17 June 2023.

The musical about 1980s hair metal, starring Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy, pays a visit to Newcastle this week on its farewell tour. Based upon the 2012 film, it will be popular with the legion of fans of the old Newcastle Mayfair. So whether you preferred playing air guitar or Guitar Hero, this jukebox musical show has a selection that will be your cup of tea.

Centered around the Bourbon Rooms, a bar on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip owned by Denis Dupree (Kevin Kennedy) with his right hand man Lonny (Tim  Oxbrow), this is a classic love story. Given that much of the 80s hair metal hits were often about love - this is a good fit. Expect Every Rose has Its Thorn and To Be With You to be sharing the stage with Dead Or Alive and Don't Stop Believing.

Sherrie (Gabriella Williams) wants to be an actress. She moves to LA to pursue her dream and she gets robbed as she steps off the bus.  Fortunately the bar back at the Bourbon Rooms Drew, performed so well tonight by understudy Scott Hayward, was on hand to help her out. She ends up with a job at the Rooms whilst she auditions for that film role that she dreams of..

Meanwhile German property developers Hertz (Vas Constanti) and Franz (David Breeds splash the cash and want to see the Rooms replaced with a Footlocker store. In order to raise capital, the club owners decide to host the final show of Arsenal before they spilt with the egotistical singer Stacee Jaxx (Cameron Sharp). Stacee gets involved with Sherrie and  then demands that the waitress is sacked.
Thus the story is set up. Will the Rooms be saved from demolition by the developers? Will any of the romantic situations get set up and be more than ships sailing in the night? Will Sherrie find new work? 

There is a lot of humour and smashing that fourth wall down. This is mostly around Lonny, who acts as narrator in this Chris D'Arienzo book. The audience are encouraged from time to time to go from a rock concert to almost a pantomime type scenario. In terms of the rock concert - the band, under MD Lian Holmes, is often on stage - apart from the keyboards and bass. The lighting design from the ever dependable Ben Cracknell and sound from Ben Harrison certainly elevates the show above most jukebox "live scenes".

The humour - in particular between Kevin Kennedy and Tim Oxbrow - really help keep the audience engaged.

There is an issue with the show though. Some of the audience will have a bigger problem with it than others. It is the elephant in the room. That is - the show is set in, and has the attitudes of the 1980s. We are not just talking the economic policies of Regan here. The attitudes towards women is not exactly palatable by current standards. The slapstick humour does go for more of the Carry On theme and this will be some of the audience off. Like a few other musical comedies, this show may struggle to be revived in the future without some changes.

Having said someone who worked in a music event in this era, I recognised what I was seeing and the musical captures a time from the past.

I love much of the humour in the show. I love the music. (I want the Mayfair to return!) I love how the cast worked with the audience. 
There are some cracking individual performances here. It is great to hear some "rock" rather than "pop" vocals. Great performances from Gabriella Williams and Scott Hayward worked really well together. Having said that, the highlight of the show vocally was in Jenny Fitzpatrick's performance as Justice. I loved her vocals and could happily stick her CD on in the car.

This is not a show for everyone, but it has fans for a very good reason. We love the music and we love the live performance. I'd happily see it again.

Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: The Other Richard


Rock of Ages plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 June 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

Show information:

Evenings: 7.30pm

Matinees: Thu 2pm, Sat 2.30pm

Running time: 2hrs 30mins (including interval)

Recommended: 12+, strong language and sexual references

This performance features strobes, flashing lights, haze and loud noise

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