REVIEW: Rock of Ages, Sunderland Empire, until August 2

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ISN’T it nice when something takes you by surprise?

As someone not familiar with the film of the same name, I had no idea what to expect from award-winning musical Rock of Ages, apart from the fact that it features a plethora of rock songs.

Cue dry humour, risqué jokes and rousing renditions of rock classics which bring the audience to their feet.

Even rock music novices are able to appreciate the authentic adaptions of well-known tracks, such as the marmite (you love it or you hate it) song Don’t Stop Believin’, by Journey, and there is something for everyone to sing-a-long to.

But it isn’t just the music which engage the audience. Narrator and funny-man Lonny, played by Stephen Rahman-Hughes, keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.

His references to the show – including sitting down on stage to read the programme – receive titters from the appreciative audience, and cast.

The show is based on the book by Chris D’Arienzo, and revolves around the changing face of Los Angeles in 1987, examining the emergence of the metal music and hip-hop scenes. It also takes a brief look at the police’s attempt to crack down on gang violence.

And despite the light-hearted script, the cast, who wholly embody the over-the-top nature of the ‘glam metal’ scene, cleverly manage to convey the themes behind the show, through the music, and energetic dance.

The central love story which runs through the plot, between Drew (Noel Sullivan) and Sherrie Christian (Cordelia Farnworth) is less prominent in Rock of Ages than those in other musicals, due to the skilled actors supporting roles.

Female activist Regina (Jessie May) and Franz (Cameron Sharp) are hilarious together, performing a stand-out rendition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot - written by Eddie Schwartz - clad in sparkly 80s lycra.

Though lots of adult humour mean this musical isn’t one for the kids, encapsulating everything good, and bad, about the rock era and 80s stereotypes, makes Rock of Ages is a surprising delight.