In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre

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I was never going to be the sort of person seduced by the plethora of posters appearing all over London advertising this latest show. Justin Lee Collins! Shayne Ward! A number of songs by rock artists I never listen to if I can help it! It’s effectively pitching the entire show as a jukebox collection performed by a stunt cast – an eighties Dreamcoats and Petticoats with leather jackets and eyeliner.

And yet, when seeing it last week as it started previews, it’s clear that there’s much more going on, and there’s far more for a lover of traditional musicals to enjoy. Don’t believe the hype – Rock of Ages is actually quite good.

Continue reading “In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre”

In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-09-07 13:44:59I was never going to be the sort of person seduced by the plethora of posters appearing all over London advertising this latest show. Justin Lee Colli…

We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre

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There remains something slightly macabre about a musical protesting about the homogenisation of music, while itself performing the same act on the Queen back catalogue. However, in general, the current cast of We Will Rock You work hard enough, and well enough, to encourage one to overlook the dichotomy.

Ben Elton’s book remains unsure as to whether it wants to be any more sophisticated than a children’s sitcom. Most times it is breathtakingly simplistic, yet it is always aware that it is merely fulfilling the act of bridging the gaps between the classic songs that the audience have come to see, hear and sing along to.

Sabrina Aloueche’s Scaramouche provides the lynchpin to the whole show, with fine comic timing and a line in deprecating humour that encourages the audience to laugh along with, rather than at, the whole ridiculous scenario. She is far stronger than her male lead, Ricardo Afonso’s Galileo. While he captivates during his solo songs, his spoken dialogue is delivered in a breathless manner that borders on inarticulacy.

Rachel Tucker, joining the cast as Meat after appearing in BBC1’s I’d Do Anything, has found the perfect stage for her large voice. Her rendition of No-one But You (Only the Good Die Young) is one of the highlights of a first act that works on many levels.

Sadly, the post-interval production lags severely in places, due in part to the over-reliance on Afonso, Scaramouche and Garry Lake’s Pop. The anticipated climax of the title song and the inevitable encore of Bohemian Rhapsody, come as blessed relief.

Reviewed for The Stage

We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:14:29There remains something slightly macabre about a musical protesting about the homogenisation of music, while itself performing the same act on the Que…

Never Forget, Savoy Theatre

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To describe a musical based around the songs of pop group Take That as too cheesy would be missing the point somewhat, akin to describing Sweeney Todd as overly gruesome or Joseph as too multicoloured. This is a show that revels in the tackiness and excess of early nineties pop, completely aware that it will be delighting its target audience as it does so.

What comes as a surprise is the quality of the script. Written by theatre and TV script writer Danny Brocklehurst with director Ed Curtis and Guy Jones, for the most part the story of five lads who group together to form a Take That tribute band is played for laughs. Jokes come thick and fast in the first act, with moments of slapstick and absurdity played at just the right level to prevent the whole enterprise from descending into a panto-style knockabout.

Unfortunately, the more dramatic thread – the pressures on lead singer Ash, played by Dean Chisnall, to leave the band and take up with record company scout Annie (Joanne Farrell), to the wrath of fiancee Chloe – is handled less well, achieving levels of sub-Hollyoaks melodrama that Brocklehurst avoids in his own TV work. It doesn’t help that Chisnall is the least charismatic of the five group members. Every time he is on stage alone, one yearns for his four bandmates to return to bring some life back into proceedings. Farrell is hopelessly out of her depth as an underwritten femme fatale. Audience members were content to welcome every onstage appearance with panto-level boos and hisses, but it’s an appreciation that neither the character nor the performance deserves.

Vocally, the star of the show is Sophia Ragavelas as Chloe, the classic wronged woman. Her gut-wrenching performance of Love Ain’t Here Anymore is the standout moment of the show, with a delivery so powerful it stunned the raucous audience of Take That fans into complete silence for possibly the only time in the entire show.

There are also some superb performances from the large company of dancers. While the accompaniment to many staged Take That numbers is as reminiscent of eighties TV light entertainment spectaculars as it is the excess of the original group’s own stage shows, a number of sequences, tightly choreographed by Karen Bruce, show their abilities off to full effect. Most notable is a sequence set in a Manchester salsa bar, which clearly references similar sequences in better musicals, including the Mambo from West Side Story. It’s an audacious move and one which the production just about manages to pull off.

Ultimately, the audience for this show is always going to be dominated by fans of Take That’s original music catalogue, but there’s enough substance in here for others to enjoy too. This is a musical that knows exactly what it is, makes no apologies, and goes out with a great big smile on its face. It may be camp nonsense, but it’s self-aware – there’s full knowledge that the rain machine at the end of the first act will get the biggest applause of the evening, and everyone is perfectly happy to play along.

Reviewed for The Stage

Never Forget, Savoy Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:28:27To describe a musical based around the songs of pop group Take That as too cheesy would be missing the point somewhat, akin to describing Sweeney Todd…