Monday, 10 November 2014

Rock of Ages - preview

THE 1980s music scene was dominated by guitars, rock anthems, big hair, spray on jeans, make up and larger than life characters.
It is also the inspiration for Rock Of Ages The Musical, a show which is a tongue in cheek celebration of classic 80s rock culture featuring some of the most memorable songs from the decade around which a love story is built.
Following a three-year run in the West End, it is currently enjoying a successful nationwide tour which will come to New Wimbledon Theatre for its final week from November 17.
It stars Ben Richards who takes the role of rock god Stacee Jaxx. Stacee, who Ben describes as "a glam rocker, all big hair, tight clothes and make up" is a world away from previous characters he's played who include Bruno Milligan in Footballers' Wives and Nate Roberts in ITV's police drama The Bill.
We chat as he takes a well earned break between shows and it's clear he's relishing the chance to play a rock god.
"Stacee is a great character to play," he says cheerfully. "I think what attracted me to the part was that as well as the really tight and funny script Stacee is so different to anyone I've played before and it was a chance to play a rock star - who wouldn't want to do that!
"I like to change it up and do something different with each job I do," he adds. "I did a misogynist boss in the musical Nine To Five and then a Victorian thug in Bill Sykes in Oliver in Sheffield and now a 1980s rock star – it’s fantastic really.
“Stacee is quite arrogant and does everything to excess. He's a lead singer in a band and about to go solo. He's used to getting his own way all the time and used to getting yes as an answer to everything – whether it’s a job, drugs, music or women.
"He's very interesting and lost in his own world," adds Ben. "It was a bit weird to begin with putting on all that hair, tight trousers and make up and so on but it's great and I'm having a lot of fun."
The show follows the fortunes of aspiring rocker Drew, who works as a busboy in a Hollywood bar called The Bourbon Room. Drew falls for Sherrie Christian, who has just arrived from Paola Kansas and who has aspirations of being an actress.
However the future of the Bourbon Room is in doubt thanks to a pair of German developers and so owner Dennis decides to bring in Stacee Jaxx and his band to perform at the venue.
"The story is a bit loose but essentially it's a classic love story of boy meets girl, they fall in love and have an adventure," says Ben.
"The boy wants to be a rock star and the girl wants to be an actress but the back story is that German developers want to knock this iconic venue down.
"It’s a bit 'will rock and roll win over the greedy and evil developer?' It's all narrated by Lonny, one of the characters who talks to the audience throughout which is a great element of the show."
Inter-spliced with the narrative are all the classic musical numbers which Ben says have been getting the audience out of their seats and singing along and playing air guitar in the aisles.
"It’s fantastic and it's great to see the audience really get into the spirit of it,” he laughs.
“Once the music starts you hear the crowd just go wild. By the end of Act 1 the audience is absolutely loving it and in fact throughout the tour the reaction and interaction has been amazing and we've had standing ovations every night which for all us performers is just the best feeling and what it's all about.
“It’s a real feel good show that everyone wants at the moment and that doesn’t take itself too seriously which really appealed to me."
Among the classic tunes are We Built This City, The Final Countdown and Don’t Stop Believin’ as well as Ben's personal favourites which include Dead Or Alive and I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner.
“I think I Can’t Stop Feeling is a great song," he adds. "I don’t do it but it’s a funny scene when it’s sung and I love listening to it.
"It's a lot of fun singing all these great tunes especially as I used to listen to this sort of music when I was growing up. At home it was Motown but then I’d go round to my mate Paul’s house and he’d be listening to ACDC, Whitesnake – which was my first concert – and Iron Maiden.
"It was so much part of my growing up and of course being a rock star was a bit of a dream back then so I have to pinch myself now a bit that I’m actually playing at being one."
And as the seven month tour comes to a close Ben admits he will be sad to hang up the spray on jeans and big hair but says he's looking forward to going out with a bang in Wimbledon.
"I've performed at the theatre before – so it will be great to finish the tour in such a lovely theatre and I'm really excited about it - you can't beat the buzz of a live show," he says.
“I know the area well because we filmed the Bill just down the road in Merton and I’ve happy memories of that," he says.
"I was lucky to be in that as it’s a massive part of TV history. But I've been lucky to have a varied career and if the role excites me and it's something that captures my imagination I'll do it. I'd love to be in Jesus Christ Superstar.
"I always wanted to be an actor though and grew up watching musicals so to be living the dream is pretty special," he adds.

Rock Of Ages The Musical is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre between Monday, November 17 and Saturday, November 22. Visit or call the box office on 020 8545 7900 for tickets.

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