Friday 25th January 2019 at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, York.
Vampires Rock is a whole lot of talent wrapped up in a whole lot of bonkers, self-mocking entertainment.
There’s no question about how Creator, writer, director and star Steve Steinman wants his show to be received. In the closing moments, he demands from his enthusiastic audience: ‘Have I made you laugh? Have I made you smile? Have I made you sing out loud?’ and when his fans respond in the affirmative, he proudly declares success ‘well I’ve done my job then, haven’t I?’ No one is after an Olivier here, they’re after nothing more than a good time, plenty of laughs and flippin’ fantastic music – and they deliver exactly that.
The plot? Amidst 36 rock classics, Baron Von Rockula (Steinman) is busy avoiding his Vampire Queen (Sam Bailey) and seeks a replacement. Roxy Honey-Box is the kidnapped girl who falls under his spell and gladly becomes wife number 3 in the Baron Von Rockula Ghost Train Empire.
Rockula’s minion Bosley (John Evans) takes on all the dirty work and he is every dunce side-kick rolled into one, kitted out in the ridiculous garb of a five year old’s concept of a rocker superhero: pants over trousers (well, in this case a bright blue PVC thong), make-up surely applied in a lightless cave and clothes with so many slashes, gashes and gaping holes he’s at least in no danger of over-heating! Steinman and Evans have a great rapport and their bickering and back-biting clearly delights long time fans.
The show is on the fetishistic side when it comes to designs and the whole thing is slathered in leather, skulls and ‘freak’ icons from movies. For every character, the costume must-have is leather, leather and… more leather. With a fair few chains. And a little ornamental blood, naturally. Basques too are a favourite, with three dancers titilating the crowd with raunchy get-ups and saucy choreography (Victoria Hawley).
Trixabelle Bold and Hawley are an almost constant presence, dancing in leather and lace and growling vocals into their mics as a fiery backdrop to any central action – and to make sure that we never lose sight of the passion and the pain in rock music, of course…
And what’s a rock show without the band? Jamie Hiscox and Henry Bird are also constants, playing their guitars with all the energy and showmanship of lead performers. Zoë Parr stands atop a platform throughout, playing Bass with swaying passion in that classic astride rocker pose. They’re joined by the less visible but equally talented Pete Jean on Drums and Andy Preston on Keyboards – each and every one bringing their A Game.
Despite the proudly rough and ready approach to Vampires Rock as a ‘musical’, ‘rock concert’ or ‘musical concert’, there’s no denying the glittering, polished talent to be found amongst the cast. In fact, Roxy Honey-Box prompts me to quote Shakespeare… Yes, as incongruous as that is, it must be done for though Hayley Russell ‘be but little, she is fierce’.
She’s a superb vocalist who takes on a variety of rock anthems and wins. Her performance of Holding Out for a Hero is one of the most dramatically intense musical performances I’ve seen on a stage – how she produces the towering sounds she does is beyond me. At times sounding incredibly Bonnie-Tyler-esque but mostly offering a distinct sound all her own, Russell is most definitely a big draw in this show.
Then there’s Sam Bailey. Bailey is the ‘Special Guest Star’ of this particular Steinman tour and she knocks socks, shoes and wigs off with her performance as the Vampire Queen. We already know that she’s a hell of a vocalist, but it was a real treat to hear her take on some of the very best rock anthems. It’s a bit of an education too as the show gives her a platform to sing material which is so different from the styles she’s usually associated with.
Her talent is so much more versatile than the music she has currently released suggests – let me enlighten you folks: amazingly, alongside those smooth soaring sounds, she has one of those uniquely powerful growling voices which are so utterly perfect for performing in this style. Not the quiet, sultry growl (though in fairness she has that too) but the raging high volumed growl which dominates all available air space. Brilliant stuff. And her take on I Put a Spell on You is a resounding highlight – as is Alone.
Steinman runs his show like a circus-panto hybrid, with himself centre stage as the comic ring master who whips his minions into shape and frequently bursts into song. There’s back-and-forth with the audience and plenty of gags – it’s clear that 90% of the audience knew exactly what they were in for and they lapped up every purposefully terrible joke going. The rest of us were a little shell-shocked to begin with, but inevitably won over by the end of it all!
The best comedy comes from ad-libs from the cast, responses to heckles from the audience and comically terrible use of song lyrics in place of a scripted scene. Bailey gets big laughs via some improv around the subject of her bust and there’s a real sense of fun and general pally ribbing among the cast which is always entertaining to see.
Vampires Rock is definitely worlds away from West End glory and that’s clearly the intention. The script may be destined for a stake through the heart, but the music slays and the vocals are killer (teehee)… And when a show constantly pokes fun at itself, there’s little to critique other than to say the fantastic music is at the heart of everything on stage and the music is brilliantly delivered. If you like a laugh and love rock and BIG vocals, get yourself booked in (though I will say that with gleeful use of fake blood and a few colourful quips to boot, those thinking of taking your youngest family members will have to weigh up their innocence-ometer before booking!)!
Vampires Rock tours until 6th April 2019 and you can find tickets here.