This would be my 35th Rock of Ages show and, I’m going to be honest, this show was riddled with mistakes but my God it was funny. I was a lot more enthusiastic about seeing Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Lonny and was also very happy to be seeing Stephen Rolley as Drew. I saw his first ever alternate Drew show in Manchester and even then he was sensational, so I was eager to see how much he’d improved since then.
After a quick (and delicious) BBQ Whopper at Burger King, where Lucy and I ran into Abe, it was time to head to theatre for a very strangely timed 5pm matinee. Of course the first thing we did was check the cast list and we didn’t half get a shock – there was no Dan Fletcher! The role of Dennis would be played by Chris Southgate. Now I was nervous again – that meant only two members of the West End cast (Cordelia Farnworth and Cam Sharp) would be on the stage as Rachel McFarlane was still off sick. I’d only just adjusted to a new Lonny and now there was a new Dennis as well?! On the bright side it meant seeing Tara Verloop as Waitress #1 again.
We took our seats, front row of course, and waited for the show to start. Now that I was able to relax and enjoy Stephen Rahman-Hughes it gave me time to watch the other new cast members. Abigail Climer is a very strong Justice and I really do love Kylie Michelle Smith, but Chris Southgate as Dennis was not good. Not, as it’s been suggested, “Because he wasn’t Dan” because I’ve seen three other actors in the role, but because he sounded like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. I don’t know what made him put that voice on, I hope it’s because it was his first show as Dennis and he was nervous, but I’d advise him to drop it. It didn’t sound natural and turned Dennis into a bit of a parody role. He also fluffed a few lines but again, it was his first show as Dennis so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Stephen Rolley really does remind me of Oliver Tompsett’s Drew but he also has a youthful quality about him that Oliver lacked – he’s more believable in the role of Drew. His “High Enough,” which is a really difficult song to sing, was passionate and more than a match for Cordelia Farnworth’s powerful vocals and he was also a brilliant actor, taking Drew from eager and innocent to bitter and jaded with ease.
As I mentioned before there were a couple of hiccups in the show but, for the most part, they were handled professionally and without fuss. During the “Beaver Hunt” segment of the show the song was played too early which meant that Tom Andrew Hargreaves, who played Joey Primo, had to think on his feet, which he managed perfectly, aided by Stephen Rahman-Hughes who pulled a face at Lucy, Abe and I as if to say “what happened then?!” but managed to get the show back on track with his natural comedy timing.
The biggest mistake came from Abigail Climer. As Drew, now a pizza delivery boy, knocks on the door of the Venus Room, Justice answers, calls the girl who the pizza is for and then has a conversation with Drew about Sherrie. So Stephen Rolley comes along with his pizza box, knocks on the door… and nobody answers. Looking slightly confused he waited a while and then knocked again. From our seats in the front row Lucy, Abe and I could see into the wings on that side of the stage and you have never seen anything more hilarious than Abigail Climer, in her full Justice costume and make up, hurtling into the wings from backstage and throwing herself through the door – clearly a missed or forgotten cue somewhere along the line! To her credit she picked up the scene very well, if a little breathlessly, and I don’t think the majority of the audience noticed anything had gone amiss. Lucy, Abe and I, however, were all laughing so hard we couldn’t sit upright.
The rest of the show passed without incident, unless you count the very drunk women on the front row declaring that they “wanted one of their own” after watching Cam Sharp as Franz. Thankfully we found a shortcut to the stage door that cut out three flights of stairs and settled down to wait for the cast. The stage door was wide open and it was very amusing to see various wigs and costumes being carried past, and I was very surprised to hear the cast’s 30 minute call – they didn’t have long inbetween shows did they?!
Despite this there were many cast members who were lovely enough to spend some of their short break with us. I met the dance captain Russell Smith who is also understudy Franz – something I definitely wouldn’t mind watching! Chris Southgate provided some entertainment when he came out still in his Dennis wig which was clipped up at the back and looked absolutely hilarious! I also had a lovely chat with Jack Lord who plays Hertz and is a fellow Manc who actually grew up about fifteen minutes away from where I grew up. Small world! Stephen Rolley was very generous with his time and I made sure to tell him how much I loved him as Drew and finally, Cam Sharp was not impressed that the two women wanted to keep him “I’m not an entity!”
It was absolutely amazing to be back at Rock of Ages for those two days and it seems that the show still has all of the understudy chaos it had on the West End. I’m very tempted to try and reach 40 shows before the end of the tour – that’s only five more!