Rock of Ages was a wild ride last weekend. It’s a high-octane ode to rock and roll music of the 1980s by Chris D’Arienzo and staged by KADS, the Kenya Amateur Dramatics Society.
It’s set mainly in Los Angeles, where a naïve and innocent Sherrie (Rainbow Field) has always dreamed of going to fulfill her ambition to become a singer and a star.
But just as she gets off her bus from Kansas in LA, she is robbed of her most precious possessions, her music albums.
Shortly thereafter, she meets Drew (Emma Whithill), a songwriter and singer who also has ambitions but works now as a server at the Bourbon Club where he manages to help Sherrie get a job.
Their friendship blossoms, crashes several times, and nearly dies. But since ‘love never dies’, they have to get together in the end.
Before that happens, we get to hear fabulous rock and roll songs originally from ‘Glam metal’ bands like Journey, Bon Jovi, and Styx performed largely by a live musical ensemble of amazing Kenyan instrumentalists: Three guitarists, one keyboardist who also plays sax, and one drummer.
The only problem with them was that the sound technician didn’t balance the volume of the band with that of the voices, so there were many songs we couldn’t hear well.
Nonetheless, the songs were right on key and got the audience tapping their toes to the beat.
Otherwise, the set design was superlative. On stage at Braeburn Theatre, Gitanga, the set comfortably included the Bourbon Room bar and back room, the Venus Strip Club, the dressing room of the alcoholic rock star Stacee Jaxx (Mass Monte), and chorus lines of dancers and singers who swirled around the stage.
Then there was the second floor where Drew lived and invited Sherrie to come listen to his original songs.
It’s also where they ‘fell in love’ while dancers below dramatised what was ‘going on’ upstairs with the couple.
There were several scenes that reflected the ‘free love’ ethic of the Eighties, as for instance when Stacee Jaxx hooked the Rolling Stone magazine journalist, and even when the Mayor’s secretary gave ‘gratuitously’ to the Mayor. But KADS warned the public in advance that the show was strictly an adults only affair.
The struggle to keep the Bourbon Room afloat could easily be seen as part of a culture war between conservative opponents of Rock’n Roll, led by the Mayor’s wife and the Bourbon which showcases rock bands like Stacee Jaxx’s Arsenal.
Stacee has just left his band and gone solo since he’s the bigger star. He gets scheduled to perform at the Bourbon. But when he suddenly cancels, Drew gets his chance to be a curtain raiser which initially looks like a great opportunity.
But the people who get him booked in are also the ones killing the Bourbon with their fees. What’s worse is that Drew has to join a Boy Band that sings anything but Rock and Roll, which is what Drew loves.
When, in the eleventh hour, Stacee shows up to perform, he’s drunk but just as erotically charismatic as ever and has girls fainting in his presence.
Even Sherrie falls prey to Stacee’s toxic charms. She apparently doesn’t get swept up into his sexual lair, but she looks compromised to Drew who rejects her, even when she insists she didn’t get involved with the rock star.
Emma Whithill has the most exquisite voice in the show. Fortunately, she didn’t try to modify it while she played Drew.
Instead, she made her moves like a guy and carried off Drew’s character well.
She even came down off the stage for one song which she played on keyboard.
Stacee also had a powerful voice although as he was an alcoholic, he had few occasions to sing.
Sherrie was also quite good, although it was Venus’ owner who had the volume and the brass to sing ‘Harden my heart’ to Sherrie.
Costuming in Rock of Ages (originally an 18th century hymn) is also amazing.
For instance, one can see the antithetical nature of the culture wars in the costumes, as for instance with the conservative anti-Rock women and the erotic dancer-type women who stand with the Bourbon Club crowd.
As in its name, KADS has quite a few amateurs among them but they’re interspersed with amazing professionals who gave the show the perfect polish required to ensure Rock of Ages delighted all who came to see, dance and sing along with the Rock’n Roll.