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A CurtainUp London Review
Tonight's the Night
by Lizzie Loveridge
From the pen of Ben Elton, who here also directs, last scripting the Queen musical which I liked tremendously at first viewing, this new musical is a terrible disappointment. Trying to put my finger on what has gone wrong, I think it's a similar mistake to that made by the Beatles' musical All You Need Is Love. When you take earthy pop songs belted out by one rasping singer, be it John Lennon or Rod Stewart, and give it the big band musical treatment with over elaborate orchestrations, it doesn't work. Whilst some of the slow numbers are ok, they lend themselves to the "strings" treatment; the loud rock numbers are just terrible. The lyrics are inaudible and therefore their relevance to the storyline lost. The only time I could reliably catch the lyrics in one of the fast items, was when the states of America were being sung and on the front of the tour bus set, the display told us which state we were in.
It is usual for Curtain Up to summarise the plot of new plays and musicals, so I will try. Set in the USA (most of the cast need American accents), Satan (Hannah Waddingham), a female incarnation of Beelzebub, offers garage mechanic Stuart Clutterbuck, a shy sensitive boy, (Tim Howar), a deal. The swap is Stu's soul for Rod Stewart's. Stu becomes popular rock star, takes on the promiscuous raunchy lifestyle and almost loses childhood sweetheart, Mary (Dianne Pilkington). Along the way he meets old rocker Stoner (Michael McKell), Rod Stewart's camp butler Jorgé (Howard Samuels) and is managed by Rod's manager Baby Jane Golden (Catherine Porter). All ends happily on a boat, cue "Sailing".
The cast work hard but the words silk purse and sow's ear come to mind. The choreography especially the devil scenes has much pelvic hugging of a pole dancing variety and there are plenty of quite crass jokes, cheap laughs, about whether one's Brazilian (a pubic bikini wax) needs touching up in the dancing masseuses' number. I liked the love duet, "You're in my Heart, You're in My Soul" and the upbeat "Do You Think I'm Sexy" closes the first act on a better note. The second half is an improvement on the first with "Maggie May" a real crowd pleaser, fitted into the story line as Maggie May being the original name of Baby Jane . . . What a stretch, Elton! A kitsch wedding scene to "Forever Young" starts the beginning of the end (a sigh of relief), finishing with the liner honeymoon for "Sailing".
Cool, swaggering Michael McKell is the real star for my money as Stoner, the Brit, hash smoking, leather clad, laid back, old rocker, a kind of cross between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. However Dianne Pilkington, Catherine Porter and Debbie Kurup (Dee Dee) professionally execute their numbers and all have very good singing voices. Tim Howar has a certain cheeky charm as our hero Stu and sings well but the gritty quality of the Stewart originals is missing.
The tacky sets are adequate but nothing to write home about: an American garage, some bedrooms and vulgar, vulgar, vulgar the escutcheon emblazed gates of the Stewart mansion topped of with a can of McEwan's Export Ale, with the personal motto, "Booze, Balls and Birds". Bondage fans will appreciate the S and M costumes in Hell.
The night I went the Rod Stewart fans were singing along, anticipating the lyrics onstage which was curious, and insensitive of them. I think that they probably enjoyed themselves but whether Rod Stewart fans can keep a musical in business, I think is questionable. Friday and Saturday night's best seats will set you back £55 each.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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