Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: See Rock City and Other Destinations at the Union Theatre
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23 Aug REVIEW: See Rock City and Other Destinations at the Union Theatre

Having never visited the USA, to my mind, “Rock City” could easily have been a Mecca for heavy metal fans. It could have been somewhere Narnia-like, or just an ironic title, or it could have been a real city. But it turns out that Rock City is a roadside attraction on Lookout Mountain, Georgia, neither mythical nor ironic, and certainly not bustling with city life. But there is something remarkable about it; from Lover’s Leap, a point in Rock City, it is possible to see seven different states.
It’s a fascinating basis for a musical, presenting seven seemingly unrelated vignettes – one for each state – linked only by the omnipresent Tour Guide and the exploration of human relationships. Relationships between sisters, between father and daughter, between an elderly gentleman and his deceased wife. Between strangers who happen across eachother and decide to take a chance. Between schoolboys exploring their sexual identity. Between a boy and his ex-girlfriend. Between a bride and her husband-to-be.

The enigmatic Tour Guide is played by the sensational Ricky Johnston, simultaneously alluring yet creepy, a passive puppeteer that drifts in and out of the action. His beguiling character is an oddly wonderful addition to the show, a benign malevolence stitching the stories together with an invisible thread. It is impossible to sing Johnston’s praises highly enough; a voice I could listen to all night meets a captivating presence. I just wish he could have had more songs.

The rest of the large cast perform with vigour and conviction; Georgia Permutt is an enchanting Lauren, tenderly caring for her, “Grampy” (Neil Stewart) whilst singing her satisfaction with single life. It’s really refreshing to see this kind of unromantic love represented on stage, unconditional and earnest, echoed by the three sisters who argue incessantly, but at moments fall into step despite themselves. In contrast, we meet drifter Jess, played in a strong performance by Alex Lodge, who convinces small-time waitress Dodi (Nancy Sullivan) to travel to Rock City with him. We enjoy some lovely, genuinely funny moments in the car with them, trying to guess about eachothers’ lives, as Sullivan fizzes with warmth and delivers an excellent vocal.

Joshua LeClair is gorgeous as sci-fi geek Evan, searching for extra-terrestrials in a bid to prove his disbelieving ex-girlfriend wrong. There’s a wonderful quirkiness in the way he acts, his wide-eyed optimism incredibly infectious, but shatters as the hours of waiting wear on. The character himself might be a bit of a cliché, but there’s something just a little bit magical in LeClair’s delivery, that meant I just couldn’t keep my eyes off him.

The minimal set lends the show an elegant simplicity, with 12 sky-blue cubes all that’s required to create Coney Island, a boat, a car, Niagara Falls and all the other destinations that materialise before us. A seemingly abstract manifestation, the contradiction that is the Tour Guide at times appears to form part of the set, creating a backdrop that suits the show perfectly as we each fill the gaps in differently in our minds.

Unorthodox in its setting, structure and staging, See Rock City and Other Destinations is less a “musical,” than a play with songs. With a pop-rock feel, the score is good although ultimately forgettable, and many of the vocals could do with the rocky edge that Richard Dawes achieves as rebellious schoolboy Cutter.

Interesting in concept and intriguing in execution, it’s a show you’ll leave with a smile on your face, that gets bigger and bigger the more you think about it. It has moments of stunning visuals, moments of real pathos and moments of warmth and love, with an incredible performance from Ricky Johnston. It’s unusual and charming, a strange kind of beautiful.

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