Yes! The smash hit musical Rock of Ages finally came to cinemas on June 2nd and I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival ever since I saw a sneak peak trailer last Christmas. Why wouldn’t you be excited? The cast was enough for me: Catherine Zeta-Jones! Mary J Blige! Malin Ackerman! Alec Baldwin – singing! And all sharing a stage. The thought of Russell Brand didn’t leave me quite so excited but having seen the stage show I knew there couldn’t possibly be anyone else to play loud-mouthed eccentric Lonny. To top it off, Tom Cruise would hurl himself around as rock God Stacee Jaxx! So he sings, he dances –as much as a rock front man can dance– acts wasted pretty much all of the time and toots around the stage like a cross between Mick Jagger and Bon Jovi. It looked set to be one of the best musicals ever, something to rival Dreamgirls and Hairspray, but was it? Well, let’s have a look.
I saw Rock of Ages on the stage at The Shaftesbury Theatre in February and it was fantastic. Packed to the brim with classic eighties rock songs and a message of chasing dreams out on Sunset Strip, it was time before grunge was alive and boy bands were just a twinkle in manager’s eye. It tells the story of The Bourbon Room, a rock club in danger of getting closed down by do-gooders and politicians determined to clean up the strip. In amongst this Sherrie arrives, a small town girl with a killer voice and big-time dreams, who meets Drew, The Bourbon’s glass collector with ambition of his own. Basically, it’s a love story with themes of moral ambiguity and corruption throughout and tells the tale of wayward rock idol Stacee Jaxx, lead singer of Arsenal, who has let success go to his head and is lost in a sea of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. His band despises him but he feels he owes nothing to anybody, including the people at The Bourbon Room who gave him his first start.
The cast at The Shaftesbury had the audience rockin’! We even had little lights to hold up and wave during the slow numbers, the floor staff doing the same and acting as our cue. Lonny played narrator and even though it was understudy night (not that it mattered, I hadn’t realised Shane Ward was in it) everyone put on a great show. On stage, the main protestors to the Bourbon Room’s existence were German developers who convince the mayor to clean up the strip, much to the distaste of the city planner Regina. She embarks on a plan to change their minds, and through her stage presence and great dance numbers, she helps to stop the developers – and one of them even falls in love with her. The film version, however, cuts these characters completely and introduces Patricia Whitmore, played by Zeta-Jones, as the wife of the newly elected mayor intent on ending The Bourbon Room for her own reasons. As seen in the trailers and as we’ve come to expect from Zeta-Jones, she can lead a mean dance number and she certainly can sing! I was definitely looking forward to seeing what her character would bring to the film.
Tom Cruise did plenty of interviews to plug the film and the trailer he took on Jonathan Ross at Christmas is what made me want to see it on stage in the first place, so Tom: I thank you! The film has more ‘feel-good factor’ than the stage show, portraying everything in a slightly better light, though it still touches upon hard, ugly characters and amoral perceptions. The film is highly sexualised and so while I wouldn’t exactly say it’s good fun for all the family, it does remove the stage plot line that Jaxx has (consensual) sex with a minor, which sees the Rock God hero criminalised and his reputation smashed into smithereens. Neither does anyone die in the film but Hollywood did add a gay kiss, which was surprising, but also funny and quite appropriate. As it is Hollywood, it’s easy to see why everyone has a happy ending- all except the corrupt stage manager whose only motivation was greed; the mighty establishment is overthrown by the very people it’s trying to ruin. It’s the usual Hollywood fairytale. The main difference between the two productions comes down to the message: the film does suggests that dreams really can come true, whereas the stage says happiness is found with the people that you love, regardless of whether dreams are achieve d or not.
So how does Jaxx wind up with two totally different endings?
Well, Constance Sack is a writer for Rolling Stone and in the film she is given a more substantial role as the person who opens up Stacee Jaxx, which gives his character a little more depth. With Constance’s help, the audience can see behind his egocentric front and find out the real reasons for his cockiness. Cruise’s Jaxx is tormented by his fame and hounded by the women who love him, to the point where he doesn’t even recognize himself, let alone the three or so different women he wakes up to every morning. It takes Constance and her leading questions to finally unravel Jaxx, and we see the blame lies with his management for keeping him drugged up with women and booze so Stacee will keep reviving old classics to keep them rich, rather than run the risk of creating something new.
It’s an epiphany for Jaxx, who falls for Constance immediately. She is the woman who turns him into a whole person and by the films end she can be seen standing off stage heavily pregnant, while Jaxx rocks it with Drew and Sherrie onstage. In the musical, however, Constance is only there for a one night stand and so she doesn’t end up saving Jaxx, who simply loses all credibility when he leaves Arsenal and winds up broken and criminalised, a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever and even kings can end up in the gutter. The movie sugar coats the story and turns Jaxx into a good guy- I have no doubt this is under the influence of Cruise.
So what about Catherine Zeta-Jones? Did she live up to my expectations? Well, she has a couple of interesting dance numbers and her voice remains a powerhouse but quite frankly, her character is underused and she completely taken advantage of by her politician husband (despite him having an affair with the secretary.) I felt the character could have been utilised much better and be shown as more than a jilted groupie of Jaxx from years before. This serves as her motivation for putting an end to the Bourbon Room and and Stacee Jaxx — who of course she falls for again as soon as she gets a foot inside his ‘Rawk aura’ presence. Hollywood Patricia is rather a two-dimensional character here compared to the cut Regina of the West end, but inevitably both end up rooting for rock again by the end.
In the musical, Regina finds love through rock music as do Drew and Sherrie and in the film so do Jaxx and Constance. The theme of Rock of Ages is ultimately how a love for music can bring out love in everyone. Even The Bourbon’s owner Dennis Dupree and Lonny make it, a fun pairing in both versions.
By the end of the film, I wanted to ROCK! I felt it a little more with the stage than in the cinema but still I recommend you go and see either (or both!) If you have to make choice I say go for the stage. You’ll love it! I guarantee. ‘Anyway you want it…’