By BRUCE DENNILL
Rock Of Ages / Director: Timothy Le Roux / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
Conceptually speaking one of the more straightforward jukebox musicals, Rock Of Ages has a rousing soundtrack that plays like a greatest hits compilation of music played by Americans with strong, high voices and luxuriant hair falling down to the middle of their backs. There is never the problem that some musicals experience when first-time audiences spend at least part of their time with creased brows, trying their best to recognise compositions that aren’t linked to the best-known parts of the piece.
The plot is similarly simple and direct – youngsters with varying levels of talent are trying to make it in the highly-charged competitiveness of Los Angeles, and the Sunset Strip, the epicentre of the musician’s American Dream, with all of its potential and all of its lies. A nasty developer – not American, note – comes in from outside, wanting to bulldoze the clubs where these musicians have developed relationships and are in the process of slowly building their reputations, and individuals who spend every waking hour try to fulfill their own ambitions are forced to work together if they want their lifestyle to survive.
It’s all pretty loosely connected stuff, with the characters more responsible for the direct appeal of the show than the theme of the narrative. The cast are unfailingly enthusiastic and dynamic, and the comedic aspect of the script is channelled particularly well through Zak Hendrikz’s Lonny (able to connect strongly with the audience as the story’s narrator, but a little short on some of the highest notes), Natasha Van Der Merwe’s Regina (strong throughout in that role and the couple of ensemble role she multi-tasks in as well), and Neels Clasen and Matthew Counihan’s Hertz and Franz father-and-son couple (who camp it up extravagantly and hilariously, complete with thick German accents). Affable real-life rock star Cito, as Stacey Jaxx, enjoys himself as a far sleazier idol than he could be offstage and Josh Ansley as Drew shows off a voice that’s the equal of any of the superstars behind the original songs in the soundtrack, though his acting still betrays touches of his relative inexperience in that part of his craft. Stefania du Toit, though not a lead in this instance, deserves notice for her dancing in particular, standing out for her precision and commitment when it comes to the choreography.
But it is Craig Urbani, as dope-dependent nightclub owner Dennis, who steals the entire piece. Urbani has a career full of plaudits but a year of touring Chicago internationally and a non-stop schedule of acting and singing work at home have honed his talent and performance style even further to make his Dennis – who is the empathetic heart in all of the superficial scrabbling for stage time and profit – an apparently effortless masterclass in singing, comedic timing and generosity towards those with whom he shares the stage.
This is not thought-provoking or sober material and it never makes any claim as such, revelling in the parental guidance-level debauchery that makes the musical a little titillating and the towering rock anthems (with no concessions made for the vocally brutal keys in which may of them were written) that drive the story forward.
Fun and frivolous – and wherever you are in the piece, there’ll be a rousing chorus along in a minute…