Chris High reviews Tonight's The Night at the Liverpool Empire Theatre 2006

Chris High reviews The Rod Stewart Musical on www.chrishigh.com


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Chris High review: Tonight's The Night by Ben Elton live' 2006 at the Liverpool Empire Theatre

Tonight's The Night - The Rod Stewart Musical by Ben Elton


Ryan Molloy, Tiffany Graves, Jeff Edwards, Rachel Tucker, Nathaniel Morrison, Kristina Paraskeva, Daniel Robinson

Music Supervisor: Griff Johnson
Producers: Phil McIntyre & Arnold Steifel
Liverpool Empire Theatre
June 19th 2006

The Rod Stewart Musical 2006: promotional image

TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT REVIEW


Ben Elton, one-time satirical comedic anarchist and author of hits such as Blackadder and Popcorn, clearly knows an opportunity when he sees it. Having already scored a massive – and well-deserved – hit with his musical, We Will Rock You based in and around the music of Queen, Elton saw the music of self-styled Rock God Rod Stewart as another vehicle in which to express his undoubted writing talents, musically.

A big mistake. Tonight's The Night starts in Hell and simply refuses to get any better.
Though not averse to the occasional pretty melody from Rod Stewart and his throaty delivery – which were given to a male lead with a singing voice closer to that of Barry Gibb’s – a few pretty tunes do not a musical make.

Unlike with We Will Rock You, Elton somehow forgot to include one vital component to live musical theatre – the story – and unlike We Will Rock You, more or less forgot the pathos, the emotion and, oh yes, the self-deprecation of his subject.

Stuart Clutterbuck (Molloy) is in love with Sweet Lady Mary (Tucker). Trouble is he’s so shy he can’t tell her. So what does he do? He sells his soul to the Devil (Graves) of course and is given the supposed characteristics of his hero and self-styled Sex King, Rod Stewart. Naturally enough, fame and cool goes to young Clutterbuck’s head until he realises he’s lost everything and wants to turn back the clock to win the girl of his dreams.

“I think I’ll sell my soul to the Devil.”

“Okay.”

“Can I have my soul back please?”

“Okay.”

And there, in joyful short, is the script.

Good eh?

All pretty standard Faustian stuff, one might think, except it isn’t because despite the tracing-paper thin premise being barely enacted in the first half, the second sees it disappear altogether leaving nothing in its wake but confusion. Better to say that there isn’t a story but instead a three-wheeled vehicle for a string of Stewart numbers played at deafening levels by screeching juniors that might well have been better done a la Abba Mania to save the cast, and the audience, the bother of having to look for something to follow.

There are some moments to remember. Jeff Edwards playing the part of Stoner, the hash-smoking Cockney guitarist and good-time reveller of the revamped Clutterbuck’s band, is hilarious in his role and gathers the best lines to his chest as though they were Rachel Hunter.

The music, too, is played exceptionally well by a band situated high up at the back of the stage. Yet that shouldn’t be a surprise. Rod Stewart, after all, is a legend. 140 million album sales around the world and an iconic status built during a time when legends were made and not manufactured is an achievement to be envied.

Here, however, his body of work is – dare I say it – destroyed by a script that is so clichéd it comes across as a commercial.

The cast work hard, but the words silk purse and sow's ear come to mind and all too regularly. The choreography, especially the devil scenes, has much pelvic hugging and there are plenty of cheap laughs about cheesy balls to be had.

The love duet, You're in my Heart, and the upbeat Do You Think I'm Sexy close the first act on a better note, before things go west completely.

Whilst some of the slower numbers are ok, they lend themselves to the "strings" treatment. The loud rock numbers, Young Turks especially, are just terrible. The lyrics are inaudible and therefore their relevance to “the storyline” become totally lost.
The only time the lyrics in one of the fast items could clearly be understood is when the states of America are sung and on the front of the tour bus set, the display tells us which location we were supposed to be in.

By the time Mary and Stuart are united in love and are safely honeymooning aboard Rod’s luxury yacht, the coma is so intense it has the doctors reaching for the life support’s off switch. Amidst much ruffling of paper shorter-order cook’s hats that supposedly represented sailor’s titfers, the seminal Sailing is belted out by the cast and audience alike with considerable gusto and much arm waving.

Thankfully, as the song ends, so is that self-same switch mercifully thrown to end the misery.

Taking the earthy pop songs of one rasping singer and giving them the big band musical treatment with over elaborate orchestrations, quite clearly doesn't work. Stewart sings about love, heartbreak, sex and, urm, sailors. Queen sing about love, heartbreak, nuclear devastation, murder and torment, being ripped off, and , urm, that rich tapestry that is life. Their songs “fit” the concept of a musical. As talented as Rodders is, his don’t, no matter how much the square peg is battered into its hexagonal hole.

Overall, the show’s a mess that, nonetheless, will appeal to ardent Stewart fans in their droves. For the rest of us, however, now is the time to decorate the downstairs loo or any other horrible task that’s been put off for weeks on end.

 

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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
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