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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Tonight's the Night
by Lizzie Loveridge

I don't want to talk about it
Title of a Rod Stewart song
Tonight's the Night
Howard Samuels as Jorgé and the company as masseuses
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Tonight's The Night, the new musical based on the songs of Rod Stewart starts in Hell and sadly doesn't get any better. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, using the legend of Faust on which to base the musical wasn't such a great idea. Ah well, I can hear you say, the "turkey" season is almost upon us and here it is in London's West End with all the trimmings. Now I am not averse to the occasional pretty melody from Rod Stewart. I enjoyed his throaty delivery, until Bryan Adams did it better. I would sing-along to "Maggie May" and Sailing, but a few pretty tunes do not a hit musical make.

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.
Tonight's the Night
Music and lyrics by Rod Stewart
Book and direction by Ben Elton

Starring: Tim Howar, Hannah Waddingham, Diane Pilkington, Catherine Porter, Michael McKell
With: Keith Bookman, Jeff Edwards, Debbie Kurup, Sharon Clancy, Tim Funnell, Tim Walton, Lucie Fentum, Howard Samuels, Lucy Anderson, Rebecca Parker, Tanya Robb, Matthew Boulton, Matt Firth, Leon Maurice-Jones, Jo Morris, Thern Reynolds, Dean Street, Tyman Boatwright, Alistair David, Emma Gray, Samantha Modeste, Brenda Jane Newhouse, Ngo Ngofa, Chris Ellis-Stanton, Lucy Jane Adcock, Jane McMurtie, Tino Sanchez, Sarah Dickens, Darragh O'Leary, Paul Shipp
Set and Costume Designer: Lez Brotherston
Music Director: Nick Finlow
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Whizz and Sebastian Frost for Orbital
Orchestrations: Colin Towns
Musical Supervisor and dance arrangements: Gareth Valentine
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval .
Box Office: 0870 890 0511
Booking to 1st February 2004
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th November 2003 Performance at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London SW1 (Tube/British Rail: Victoria)
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