Bob Elton’s book for the Rod Stewart musical “Tonight’s The Night” is an insipid Faustian pact between Detroit gas station mechanic Stu Clutterbuck and Satan. Stu is a shy, sensitive, misunderstood young man who is in love with the sickly sweet cashier Mary. Not having the courage to ask her for a date he remains sad and gloomy until a bored female Satan comes along and offers a helping hand. Satan promises him a night of passion with Mary in exchange for eternal damnation. Stu agrees and so Satan swaps his soul with Rod Stewart’s.
As a result Stu instantly becomes a rock 'n' roll rebel. He struts like a proud rooster and instantaneously becomes the most popular mechanic in the garage, with all the women lusting for him and all the men yearning to be like him. After bedding his sweetheart Mary he leaves the very next day to go on the road as a rock 'n' roll musician. Meanwhile we hear reports that the real Rod Stewart has lost his interest in blondes, beer and football and dashed off to a Buddhist commune in India with Richard Gere, much to the consternation of both his manager Sweet Baby Jane (formerly called Maggie May) and camp butler Jorge.
The moral behind Ben Elton’s story is “To thine own self be true”, and since Stu is not being true to his own self we are meant to believe that he inevitably grows tired of having the soul of a rock 'n' roll superstar, and instead pines for his old self, the nervous, sensitive geek who Mary fell in love with. As if?!?
Tim Howar exudes confidence as Stu and fills the stage with his presence and his voice has that rasping quality that one immediately associates with Rod Stewart. Hannah Waddingham is a salacious female Satan, dressed in a black skin-tight plastic suit she looks as if she could easily devour any man for breakfast, though her voice was often drowned out by the music, especially in the show’s opening song “Dynamite”. It is Michael McKell who creates the most memorable character as the British musician Stoner, his cockney accent and constantly stoned expression creates a great comic caricature of an ageing rock 'n' roll musician. The only real disappointment is Howard Samuels who plays Rod Steward’s gay butler, he is miscast for the part and his attempts at camp mannerisms makes his character appear cheesy rather than humorous.
Lez Brotherston will no doubt win a prize for his stage design. Gas stations, bedrooms, hotels and mansion gates amongst other things slide on and off the stage with ease, but it is the final scene that has the audience gasping, when the gas station miraculously transforms into an ocean liner.
Rod Stewart’s songs, such as ‘Maggie May’, ‘You’re In My Heart’, ‘Sailing’ etc, are well sung and the staging magnificent and so this helps compensate for the weak book. Thankfully, Ben Elton directs the show so that one scene quickly flows into another, which skilfully prevents the audience from growing tired with the vacuous plot.
All photos are by Catherine Ashmore
What other critics had to say.....
LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "A little gaudy, bawdy, over-amplified entertainment." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Pretty dim stuff, not helped by less-than-lively dialogue....but we still get some ebullient tunes." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A book of flamboyant silliness that interferes with the pleasure of hearing Rod Stewart's biggist hits.." ADAM SCOTT for THE INDEPENDENT says, "The songs serve the plot. And what a lot of service it needs." SARAH HEMMING for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Ben Elton's script is cheerfully daft...."
External links to full reviews from newspapers