It goes without saying: for any Rod Stewart fan, this is the perfect show. Song after song of the shaggy haired, gravelly voiced rock star’s repertoire is packed into this feel-good musical. All of the favourites are there: from Hot Legs to the ballad I Don’t Want to Talk About It, the cheeky Do Ya Think I’m Sexy to Sailing, Stewart’s biggest-selling UK song. Personally, I knew about four of the tunes (although I did nod enthusiastically to my companion as the opening chords of Maggie May rung out at the opening of the second act). But that didn’t matter, because the talented cast poured their souls into the production, pushing out every ounce of energy they had.
The show tells the tale of the shy and retiring Stuart (Ben Heathcote), who falls in love with the blonde and bubbly Mary (Jenna Lee-James). In order to win her heart, Stuart makes a Faustian pact with the red leather clad she-Devil (Tiffany Graves) to sell his soul – in return for the soul of his hero Rod Stewart. But as Stuart’s new rock and roll lifestyle takes over, his relationship with Mary is put to the test. But with the help of their friends Dee Dee (Jade Ewen) and Rocky (Andy Rees), all may not be lost.
Tonight’s the Night, a compilation musical based on the life and extensive discography of Rod Stewart, is Ben Elton’s follow-up to We Will Rock You. If you’re looking for a musical with a deep and engaging story, this perhaps isn’t your bag: it’s rather telling that leafing through the programme, you won’t actually find a synopsis of the plot.
Nevertheless, the production is very good, with great set, costume, lighting and musical arrangements, and a terrific rock band led by MD Griff Johnson accompanying the numbers. The cast give their all, and Rod’s well-known hits are delivered with gusto to a delighted audience, who were on their feet, dancing in the aisles by the finale.
Jenna Lee-James, playing the female lead Mary, is a highly talented and versatile musical theatre star, who will no doubt continue to land West End roles. She mixed punching belt with growl, with lilting musical theatre, and has fantastic stage presence. Her heartfelt performance in Reason to Believe was particularly notable. Ben Heathcote as male lead Stuart has an ideal vocal tone to carry Rod’s gravelly rock songs and excellent energy on stage. Especially good were his renditions of Stay With Me, Maggie May, and the opening duet with Lee-James: You’re in my heart.
Former Sugababe and UK Eurovision star Jade Ewen as Dee Dee showed off her gorgeous soul voice in two beautiful numbers: What Am I Gonna Do and The First Cut is the Deepest. Andy Rees, playing Rocky sang the moving I Don’t Want To Talk About It beautifully.
Tiffany Graves as Satan and Baby Jane is a strong character with a fabulous voice, while Michael McKell as Stoner provided the show’s witty one-liners in a Bill Nighy/Mick Jagger inspired performance. The production’s ensemble cast gels beautifully, delivering animated harmonies and snappy choreography.
Tonight’s the Night is first and foremost a jukebox compilation celebrating the enormous success of one of the UK’s premier rock and roll exports. And in that respect, it is a great night out. “Rod the Mod” Stewart has sold over 100 million records worldwide: this gives a snapshot of his glittering career and is a must for any fan.
Review by Emma Slater
Tonight’s the Night – the Rod Stewart Musical
Written by Ben Elton
Set on the mean streets of Detroit and in the glamorous clubs of uptown LA, Tonight’s the Night tells the story of a shy young man, so tongue tied that he cannot find the courage to declare his love to the girl of his dreams. How different he is to his hero, that legendary rock n’ roll vagabond Rod Stewart – now there’s a guy who never had any trouble hitting on a girl! One night our hero strikes a deal with the Devil, trading his soul for Rod’s. It seems like a good idea at the time but this guy is about to find out the hard way that you can’t find true love using another man’s moves and that devil or no devil, there’s only one Rod Stewart!
Directed by Cjay Ranger. Choreographed by Denise Ranger.
Tuesday 18th March 2014