Thanks to a bizarre set of circumstances that I am still trying to get my head around, I was lucky enough to be able to see Nathan Amzi play Lonny in Rock of Ages one last time. I was in Tenerife when the news broke that Stephen Rahman-Hughes (tour Lonny) was injured and Nathan, who was in Manchester to watch the show, would be stepping in for two nights. Despite being 3000km away at the time I booked two tickets for the second show, which would start less than 24 hours after I had landed back in Manchester. That’s either dedication or stupidity.
I was a jittering wreck for the entire day before the show, convinced that this was just too good to be true and something was going to go wrong. Nathan? In Manchester? Playing Lonny in Rock of Ages? I was pretty sure that it was a jet-lag induced hallucination. Due to my impatience to get going we got to Manchester a good hour before the show, so my Mum and I decided to go to Starbucks. I could not sit still. Due to a combination of nerves and excitement I was practically bouncing off the walls, and driving my Mum mad in the process.
When we finally made our way to the theatre the first thing I saw was a piece of paper; “The role of Lonny will be played by Nathan Amzi.” Cue a bout of full blown, hands flapping, jumping up and down, and screaming like a little girl fangirling. Not my best moment. As we took our seats in the circle it was the strangest feeling – the set was exactly the same and they were even playing the same pre-show music as they had at the Garrick Theatre. It was like being in a dream.
As the lights went down and the band began to play I stopped breathing, focusing on the door at the top of the stairs. Then… “YEAH! WHAT’S GOING DOWN MANCHESTER?!” Oh sweet Jesus. It was really Nathan! I burst into tears, much to the surprise of the woman sat next to me. He was absolutely in his element, and it was hard to believe that, before last night, he hadn’t performed the role for over six months. He was funny, confident and hadn’t lost any of the little nuances that made his Lonny unique – it was one of his best shows to date.
It was a very strange feeling watching a mix of the old and new cast on the stage – it felt like the first show after a cast change, when you’re getting to know the new cast. Noel Sullivan who plays Drew was a bit shaky and stilted to start off with but I think that was nerves more than anything. As the show went on he got into his stride and by “Cum on Feel the Noize” he was in his element. I didn’t really like Ben Richards as Stacee Jaxx, he was too polished and not the sort of Stacee that I was used to. He didn’t have an edge to him at all and, although technically there was nothing wrong with his performance, there was something missing – he was too “nice.” The new Hertz, Jack Lord, had a similar problem – he just wasn’t authoritative enough and his performance fell a bit flat. I did, however, absolutely love Kylie Michelle Smith who played Young Groupie. She is a fantastic dancer and a really enthusiastic performer which is just right for the role she plays. Tom Andrew Hargreaves who plays Joey Primo also caught my eye – he is a very talented, passionate dancer and played the role very well.
Then, there was the ex-West End cast. I may be slightly biased here but my God they were good. Dan Fletcher in particular was absolutely incredible – the role of Dennis is in safe hands. He was absolutely hilarious throughout and it was so good to see him on stage with Nathan Amzi again – the chemistry between the two was absolutely spot on and they definitely got the biggest laughs of the night. Cordelia Farnworth was such a cute little Sherrie and gave the role a touch of innocence and endearing naivety, and she transitioned beautifully into the wiser, tougher Sherrie that we see later on in the show. Cam Sharp was in his element as Franz – I have a lot of respect for Cam as he really stepped up to the plate on the West End – he was thrown on stage as his third cover role, three shows before his scheduled debut, and he smashed it. It would have been easy for Cam to play the role as Sandy Moffat did on the West End but instead he has taken the role and tailored it to suit his own incredible talent. He stole the scene every time he was on the stage and more than once I found myself watching him instead of Nathan, which says it all!
As Nathan stepped up to bring the show to a close I had to choke back the tears – I wasn’t ready to say goodbye again. It’s a credit to the cast that, as upset as I was, I still got caught up in the energy of the final song “Don’t Stop Believin’” and I was up and dancing along with the rest of the theatre. After the show I ran to the stage door – pausing briefly to steal the cast notice from the wall – and waited. I bumped into my lovely friend Abe and we discussed the show as I waited anxiously for Nathan to come out. When he did, I jumped on him – I’d not seen him for six months! After lots of cuddles we had a great catch-up and he introduced me to his friend Kenny Thomson who I knew from sight as I’d seen him as Benny in RENT last year. I gave Dan Fletcher huge hugs as well and had a chat with him and Simon Lipkin, who will be performing as Lonny for the next two nights.
As for the show – it was actually very good. There were a few sound problems and the dancing wasn’t as tight as it could have been but I suspect those are just teething problems. Noel Sullivan has the potential to be a fantastic Drew, he just needs to relax on stage a bit more. Having seen the show so many times on the West End it would have been impossible for me not to compare the tour to the West End; the essence of the show is still there and the buzz I got from watching it was definitely still there. It did feel a little strange at times and I couldn’t help thinking “such-a-body didn’t do it like that” but if I had been watching it for the first time I am pretty sure I would have loved it.