ROCK OF AGES: DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'!
It says a lot about any musical performance when the audience is still singing (or trying its darnedest to) the closing number as it shuffles out of the venue. That's exactly what happened as I was making my way down the City Theatre's narrow staircase after the final performance of Rock of Ages. Actually that also happened on opening night, and quite possibly, I'm inclined to believe, after every performance of Malta's longest-ever running musical this summer. Having already reviewed the show's opening night - in which review I had written I would be going back to see it because yes, it is that good - I obviously knew what to expect this time around, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it as much as the first time.
Going to the same musical twice is actually a first for me, an occurrence perhaps more significant because of the simple fact that, while being an avid music fanatic, musicals have never quite rated among my preferred go-to events. Indeed, apart from the local production of Rock of Ages, I've only been to a couple other musicals in my entire life. With this show however, I was immediately interested, lured in primarily by the music content; a steady stream of evergreen rock classics from the 80s that I'm sure reignited some distant memories for a good chunk of the audience (this writer included, of course).
Further to the music selection, having a live band onstage and in full view playing it was certainly a bonus; its performance not only adding extra punch to the show, but serving as a convenient prop throughout. The thing is, the vibe that Rock of Ages generates starts way before the curtain goes up, or sideways in this case. Many might have taken the music selection playing in the background as people looked for their assigned seats for granted, but it was highly effective, subtly warming everyone up nicely for the actual performance and setting the tone for what was to follow.
With the show getting rave reviews ever since opening night, expectations were probably at their highest on this final night. This may have piled on some extra pressure, I'm guessing, but not one iota of it was visible at any time, with the performers serving up a seamless delivery that effectively engaged the audience. They were pretty amazing on opening night too, but for this last show, the cast certainly sounded more confident, more entrenched in their roles without losing any of the natural flair necessary to grab the audience's undivided attention.
What else can I say about the show that I hadn't already commented on in my first review? Chris Dingli's Lonny was flawless and very, very funny; his narrative holding it all together onstage and niftily slipping into the occasional engagement with whoever happened to catch his eye in the audience. Nadia Vella and Kurt Calleja's chemistry was clear as crystal, their singing spot on and nailing the primary love storyline to a tee. And speaking of love, I must also mention Lonny and Dennis Dupree's unlikely romance, unexpectedly sprung later in the show and acted out with a good dash of humour a lot... yes, a lot of dry ice.
Elsewhere, the sub-plots worked a treat too, thanks in no small way to apt performances by the characters involved - Steffan Cheriet Busuttil's Dennis Dupree, Katherin Brown's Justice Chartier, Errol Sammut's Stacee Jaxx, Rachel Fabri's Regina McKaig and of course, Colin Fitz and James Ryder's Hertz and Franz Klinemann, the latter eventually turning out to be an unexpected hero of sorts. One must also not forget the supporting cast, who added much colour, energy, rhythm and sexiness to the proceedings, and the dedication of the creative team in the background, who along with the cast made the success that Rock of Ages has enjoyed these past three months truly a sum of all it parts. Thank you for the music, the fun, the entertainment...and don't stop believing!
An edited version of this review was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (02 October 2016)