JOHANNESBURG - "Come on, feel the noise." So the audience is implored in the first song of the hit musical, Rock of Ages. It is joyous noise. Loud and rambunctious, a throwback to the glory days of 80s rock 'n' roll.
The show premiered in South Africa at Gold Reef City's Lyric Theatre on Sunday, November 17. The musical - which has been nominated for a host of Tony Awards - features 28 rock anthems, mostly from glam metal bands like Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Journey, Styx, Poison and Foreigner.
Rock of Ages is not a tribute show though. Instead, it uses music, performed by a superb live band, to tell two stories.
The first is a love story. Sherrie (Claire Taylor) is "just a small town girl", an aspiring actress who heads for the big city lights of Hollywood. Drew (The Voice's Josh Ansley), "just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit", has a menial job at the legendary Bourbon bar but dreams of becoming a rock star. A meet-cute between the two sees Sherrie get a job at the Bourbon.
The sub-plot regards the attempts by two devious German property developers, father and son Hertz (Neels Clasen) and Franz (Schoeman Smit), to turn Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, where the Bourbon is located, into a clean, efficient example of European excellence. That means the Bourbon will be closed and destroyed.
But, the plucky Regina (Natasha van der Merwe) and other rock 'n' roll lovers "ain't gonna take it", and the group spends weeks forming human chains to protect the establishments of the Strip.
At the same time, Bourbon owner Dennis Dupree (Craig Urbani) believes his establishment could be saved if he can convince rock star Stacee Jaxx (Andrew Webster) and his band Arsenal to play their last show at the bar.
The course of true love never did run smooth - Drew blows a date with Sherrie when he tries to calm her nerves by calling her a "friend." This means that when the womanising and sleazy Stacee spots Sherrie at Bourbon, she has no qualms about hooking up with him. Big mistake. Not only does she lose Drew but also her job at the Bourbon. Penniless, she joins the Venus strip club as an exotic dancer.
Drew, meanwhile, finally gets the opportunity to showcase his talent by performing at the Bourbon, but no record producer is interested in signing him despite his talent.
The show's beauty lies largely in its campiness, articulated by humorous dialogue full of cheesy one-liners and sexual innuendo. (The show comes with a PG warning: rock 'n' roll debauchery ahead!)
Rock of Ages doesn't take itself too seriously and narrator, Lonny (Zak Hendrikz) breaks the fourth wall right from the start, encouraging the audience to feel nostalgic and urging them to "don't stop believin'" in the power of rock 'n' roll.
The casting is splendid (what a joy to see Craig Urbani on stage again). Watch out for Mpumelelo Mayiyane as Justice, the owner of the Venus club. Mayiyane's powerful voice is a showstopper. There is a capable chemistry between Taylor and Ansley, and there is plenty of comic relief from Urbani, Hendrikz and Webster (whose Stacee Jaxx recalls Guns 'n Roses frontman, Axl Rose).
Rock of Ages is a boisterous singalong show that won't fail to entertain and enthral.
The show is on at Gold Reef City's Lyric Theatre from November 17 to December 10.
FILE: Drew (Josh Ansley) is a wannabe rock star who falls in love with an aspiring actress, Sherrie (Claire Taylor) in Rock of Ages.
FILE: Neels Clasen (L) as the power-hungry German property developer, Hertz, and Natasha van der Merwe (R) is Regina, an activist determined to keep rock alive on the Sunset Strip.
FILE: Rock 'n' roll lovers determined to keep the culture of the Sunset Strip alive, and away from devious property developers.
FILE: Andrew Webster plays the egotistical rock god Stacee Jaxx.
FILE: Mpumelelo Mayiyane as Justice, the owner of the Venus strip club.
FILE: Internationally-renowned stage actor Craig Urbani (C) stars as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the legendary Bourbon bar on the Sunset Strip. Drew (L) and Lonny (R), played by Zak Hendrikz, work at the bar.