Critics were not kind to this mid-1980s LA-set, hair metal-inspired jukebox musical when it transferred from Broadway to the West End in 2011, largely dismissing it as puerile, wrong-headed and insubstantial. And yet it lasted there for more than two years, and has since reappeared in cities around the world, suggesting that audiences have a thirst for unapologetically insubstantial nostalgic musical entertainment.
But age has not improved Rock of Ages. Its flaws as a musical are still myriad, not helped in this UK touring incarnation by an underpowered sound, unusually for a musical genre that prides itself on ear-splitting decibels and despite the best efforts of a talented onstage five-piece band including two lead guitarists. The characters are paper thin and the plot, about German developers threatening to bulldoze the Sunset Strip bar where the action is set, barely registers. In fact, that element was exorcised completely from the fun 2012 movie version, which also recalibrated and reordered the songs, drawn from the hits of Bon Jovi, Starship, Foreigner and others, bringing to the fore better known numbers and trimming the more forgettable ones. No such refinements are evident here.
Bright spots come courtesy of some terrific performances. Cordelia Farnworth and Noel Sullivan acquit themselves well as the romantic leads, but it is Nathan Amzi’s comic turn as sound engineer, narrator and “dramatic conjuror” Lonny that holds the production together. He brings a knockabout charm to proceedings, cartwheeling across the stage like John Belushi, making the most of his comic lines and adding some much needed pep to the lulls between the big audience-pleasing songs.