Friday, 11 March 2016

Rock of Ages, Canberra Philharmonic, Erindale Theatre

There is a time and a place for good old-fashioned no-brains-required-whatsoever entertainment. And "Rock of Ages" serves that well. An exceptionally cheesy 80's rock musical compiled around twenty-odd songs of the hair-metal era, this is a case of very good production sustaining what is a somewhat ridiculous exercise.

The plot is your standard boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-again played against the background of LA's Sunset Strip in the mid-to-late-80s, and is servicable enough, most of the time. THe main attraction is the songs which are performed with all the energy appropriate to the era (including a well-choreographed bevy of dancers doing their best skanky writhing).

Emma McCormack plays "girl" in this equation, and does so exceptionally. She has a real genuine sweetness to her, and a powerful voice that serves her songs well. Dave Smith is "Boy" and, while the character as written is a tad bland, Smith gives it an endearing goofyness that combines with his rockin' tenor to keep things rolling along nicely (plus he chucks in some ridiculous running at the end). Tim Stiles provides narration, audience bonding and all-round ridiculous hell-raising while also bringing the thunder from his vocal chords. Shell Tully similarly is strong in voice and in presence as the strip-club-owner-with-a-heart, Anita Davenport brings great righteous indignation and is not afraid to get ridiculous, particularly with the similarly-ridiculous-but-also-with-a-silly-accent Hayden Crosweller. And Will Huang grabs onto his chance to play grandly-deluded-rock-god-vanity superbly, with every ridiculously affected gesture producing delight and every musical yelp showing why, in the Canberra Musical Theatre Pantheon, there is only one Will Huang, and we are forever grateful.

Not all of the material and the direction is up to the quality of the performers. In particular, the script slightly starts gagging for air in the second act, as the complications that keep boy-and-girl apart are never particularly convincing, and, even worse, the song stack starts to fall into the deep cuts of rock-balladry. "High Enough" and "The Search is Over" are pretty obscure cuts and neither really get top-class staging here - they're both sung well but they're both staged pretty much as "stand and sing" exercises, which kinda makes you think back to the days when Groucho Marx would suggest the ballads are a good time to duck out and have a cigarette. The Act One finale is also pretty messy as action takes place in five separate areas of the stage but without any good focus towards where the interesting stuff is taking place at any one time.

Max Gambale's band is a tight-rocking outfit that also scores a few quality insults to yell out. Vanessa DeJaeger's costumes give a good sense of trashy-and-often-disturbing outfits with a good sense of period (okay, technically Stacee Jaxx's boots are not 80s, they're 70s, but dammit, they work on him anyway).

In general, this is a show where the performers widly outclass the material they have, but it is a good chance to see these very skilled performers be ridiculous, rocking and have general goofy fun.

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