Tonight’s The Night is a musical using the greatest hits of Scottish heartthrob Rod Stewart as the background songs to an original book by comedian and writer Ben Elton. The show has run on the West End and is currently embarked on a UK tour.
Fans of Rod Stewart will form the natural audience for the show, and there are plenty of his best-loved songs, including Maggie May, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and You’re In My Heart that are given full-blooded treatment here.
The problem with Tonight’s The Night is the weakness of the plot. Stuart (Ben Heathcote) is in love with Mary (Jenna Lee-James) but he’s geeky and shy (he wears glasses). He makes a pact with the Devil (a plot contrivance that has been tired throughout the intervening centuries since Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus) and swaps his ‘soul’ with that of Rod Stewart. This shallow view of human nature leads to Stuart having the confidence to woo Mary, and after a one-night stand he leaves her, heading off with a sudden desire to make it as the next Rod Stewart. Even though they’ve essentially had a one-night stand, the audience is expected to credit that the love between Stuart and Mary is as deep and tempestuous as that of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Any efforts to follow the trite and wafer-thin plot end in frustration. In what year is the show meant to be set? How do characters hop from one US state to another as if they’re strolling down the road into the next village? The USA is a pretty big country – so how do they know in which bar to find the characters they’re looking for? And if Stuart has swapped ‘souls’ then why is he still essentially Stuart, just a bit more of a jerk? What exactly has been swapped?
The inane plot is neatly matched by cardboard cut-out characters and dot-to-dot storytelling that yields zero surprises, twists or turns. It’s about as suspenseful as waiting for a bus in the rain. Stuart and Mary are hot contenders for the most vapid couple ever presented in musical theatre, and it’s hard to care about them at any stage of the show. It’s consequently virtually impossible to retain any interest in this witless spectacle where flashing lights and jazzy set changes don’t make up for an atrocious book.
There were a few beacons of light amid the ocean of mediocrity. Former Sugababe Jade Ewen was indisposed for the performance, which meant that Rosie Heath played the supporting role of Dee Dee, and proved one of the highlights of the show. Heath tackled her solo What Am I Gonna Do? with haunting and beautiful vocals, and crafted a warm character. She worked well with Andy Rees as Rocky, another fine singer who managed the near-impossible of presenting a character given the awful dialogue he’s given to work with. Special credit also goes to Michael McKell, who is hilarious as Stoner, a sort of Mick Jagger meets Peter O’Toole character. Who cares if he’s upstaging everyone else and is wildly over the top? He is at least entertaining and brings energy to the stage, livening up the stagnant proceedings whenever he appears.
For cheap musicals where only a book is required since the songs pre-exist (Mamma Mia started the trend) the question must always be: would anyone enjoy it if they didn’t know the songs? For die-hard Rod Stewart fans with little discernment for the art of theatre, you may well enjoy Tonight’s the Night. For anyone else, be warned: this is musical theatre at its most soulless and cynical.