Power rawk choons. Big hair. Lots of leather. It’s easy to see why Rock Of Ages has become a runaway musical theatre success – and has now been translated into a slick Hollywood film.
On the back of Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Mary J Blige’s retelling of the story, the Rock of Ages theatre show in the West End has also had a boost, with a predicted 50 per cent rise in ticket sales following the film’s release.
The theatre show-turned-movie weaves classic 80s rock tunes (say hello again to epics from Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Guns N Roses) into a plot revolving around the planned demolition of the hedonistic LA Sunset Strip and a fictional bar, The Bourbon Room.
The show premiered in Los Angeles in 2006 and has since graduated to Broadway and across the ocean to London, with its story of keeping the spirit of anthemic rock alive.
In Blighty, the show has been playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre since August and currently boasts funnyman Justin Lee Collins and former X Factor winner Shayne Ward in leading roles in the rock opus.
Collins says he may not be the most obvious choice for his role of bar owner, Dennis Dupree, but his obsession with the 80s makes him perfect for the part: “It’s the music I’ve always loved, it’s my era. All those tunes like Here I Go Again and bands like White Snake and Def Leppard, I enjoyed very much the first time around. I’ve always been ‘Mr Retro’, I suppose.”
It’s this retro-mania that is also shared by the public – more than 250,000 people have watched more than 300 shows since it opened just under a year ago.
Collins thinks the show’s success is due to the public’s rose-tinted view of the music scene back then: “I suppose nostalgia has a lot to do with it. These things are always cyclical – for a period of time the 60s is fashionable, then we’re back on the 70s or the 90s. It seems that now the 80s are back in vogue. I think there was a time when it wasn’t cool to like the 80s, but now it’s been embraced again.”
For fellow cast-member Shayne Ward, his role as bad-boy cock-rock star Stacee Jaxx was a chance to ditch the Mr Nice-guy image he got when he won The X Factor in 2005.
He says: “Coming into this role, I had been pigeonholed and I think a lot of people were ready to slate me with all the ‘pop star going into the West End, not being able to act’ views, but I’ve been received really well.
“To me, it’s funny because being part of Syco [Simon Cowell’s music management agency] back then meant I never really got to show my personality, it was totally toned down. I felt I couldn’t really show people what I was like, like I didn’t have a funny side, so being on stage every single night being a rock god is fantastic.”
And the jump from pop ballads to stadium rock is even something that Ward’s planning to take into the studio with him, when his run on Rock Of Ages ends in September. The singer – who split with record label Syco in 2011 – says: “The good thing about being in a rock show is that I’ve learned a whole new side to my voice and developed it. I don’t think I had the confidence to really belt out something before, with all the pop songs I was doing. But I’m buzzing with it now, I think it will influence the new material I’m working on.”
The film adaptation of the play has lead to a renewed interest in the West End show. Executive producer and general manager Julian Stoneman, who was general manager of Mamma Mia!, which also became a film, says: “After the premiere of the film, we saw a 10 per cent increase of interest on the website overnight. Typically, 10-15 days after a film premieres, we see a 50 per cent or 60 per cent rise in tickets. We’ve also seen a 50-50 split between men and women in the audience – a much higher male audience that any other show in the West End.
“The film’s fantastic, but there’s nothing like seeing it live on stage. You laugh a lot more and as it’s live, it changes each night. It’s very adaptable like that.”
With Tom Cruise taking Ward’s role as Stacee and Alec Baldwin stepping up to play Collins’ part as Dennis, the stars say they’re happy to see such A-listers reviving their roles. Ward says he’s due to watch the film shortly: “I’m intrigued to see what Tom Cruise is like at playing my character, he’s a fantastic actor.”
Collins jokes: “Alec was phoning me months ago in the middle of the night asking me for tips, driving me crazy. I was like, ‘Alec, give it a rest’.”