L.A. The Eighties. Hard rock is alive and well. Two smalltown hopefuls, Drew and Sherrie, arrive on Sunset Strip, as a German property developer is threatening to flatten it. Both find work in the same bar, and Drew has just plucked up the courage to tell Sherrie, ‘I think you’re really rad,’ when jaded rock star Stacee Jax (Shayne Ward) comes between them — just because he can. Waitresses in bodice and suspenders pelvic-thrust to rock classics, oblivious.
Rock of Ages (Shaftesbury Theatre) has more layers than your average musical. There are some witty Family Guy-style cutaways, and parts of Simon Lipkin’s versatile narration seem on the point of founding a new genre: the mockumusical. Consoling Drew, he shows him the programme of the production he’s in, then tells him, ‘Screw the writer, it’s time to make your own destiny!’ At crucial moments, though, it holds back. As a gay kiss is very conspicuously avoided in one of the cutaways, and the formulaic musical engine creaks into gear for a blazing finale, we sense this clever show has a conventional heart.
The singing is high-quality — sweet-voiced Amy Pemberton as Sherrie is a highlight — and an impressive ensemble (especially Twinnie-Lee Moore) brings riveting energy to the dance numbers. By the time Drew gets his girl, now working in a strip bar (excuse for a lap-dance routine), a grass-roots campaign has defeated the evil German, so we can exit glowing and confetti-strewn on to Shaftesbury Avenue.
Sexy. Funny. Touching. In that order.