Theatre review: Tonight’s The Night

Tonight's The Night. Photo by Alastair Muir.
Tonight's The Night. Photo by Alastair Muir.

You don’t have to be a fan, but you’ll certainly have heard most of the catchy Rod Stewart numbers on offer at Milton Keynes Theatre this week as the all-singing, all-dancing, jukebox-style musical Tonight’s The Night hits the stage.

It maybe a somewhat cheesy storyline penned by prolific author, playwright, lyricist, comedian, director and sit-com writer Ben Elton, but the show plots the highs and lows of Stuart (Ben Heathcote), a whimpish shy and bullied Detriot car mechanic in his quest for love.

Unfortunately the USA’s Motor City youngster has no self-confidence around the opposite sex – and especially his heart’s desire Mary (Jenna Lee-James) – until he strikes a deal with the Devil (Tiffany Graves).

And with the deal done, Satan switches Stu’s soul with that of his hero, singing sensation and legendary womaniser, Rod Stewart.

However Stu begins to realise that having gained both soul and a real Jack The Lad attitude, it also gives him a certain responsibility and he begins to learn that he’s probably better off being himself and not somebody else when it comes to getting the girl he really wants.

With around 20 of Rod’s hit songs scattered throughout the two hour performance, Tonight’s The Night director Caroline Jay Ranger has made the most of her high-energy cast who soon have the audience rocking.

Sadly last night (Tuesday) former Sugababe Jade Ewen, who represented the UK at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, was unable to play Dee Dee as she had a problem with her voice. Instead the role was taken by her understudy Rosie Heath who was not only able to show off her acting skills, but she gave a great reprise rendition of ‘What Am I Gonna Do?’.

Michael McKell (Dr Nick West in the BBC soap Doctors) really had the audience eating out of his hand as the hilarious Stoner. Guitar playing Stoner plays an eccentric Cockney rocker who crosses Stu’s path just as the former mechanic sets off on the road to super stardom. It’s also with impeccable timing that the cheeky chappie brings the house down with a series of well rehearsed quips.

But it’s Ben Heathcote as Stuart who really rocks. He plays an acoustic guitar and is something a young Rod Stewart lookalike. Although he doesn’t possess the London-born rocker’s unique gravelly voice, he certainly makes good use of what he’s got in numbers like ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Maggie May’ and ‘Your Wear It Well’ plus the upbeat megamix at the show’s final curtain.

In that we’re treated to ‘Rhythm of My Heart’ and, of course, the classic ‘Sailing’ which saw half the audience on its feet, arms waving in unison while wearing US Navy-style paper hats!

Experienced musical theatre regular Jenna Lee-James (We Will Rock You) is great as Stu’s true love Mary and she really deserved the rapturous applause she received for her solos with ‘Reason To Believe’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’.

Andy Rees plays Rocky who ends up with Dee Dee even though, like Stuart, he too has the hots for Mary but can’t bring himself to tell her. He’s got another excellent voice and duets in ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ with Mary.

Tiffany Graves is a fishnet-clad Satan who’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’ number with three ‘Develettes’ sets the scene after she gives Stu Rod Stewart’s soul – Rod apparently having been given Stu’s in return!

With a heavy American accent, Tiffany also doubles as ageing rock chick producer ‘Baby Jane’ Golden who whisks Stuart away from Detroit to the verge of super stardom in Los Angeles.

There are several slick dance routines all well choreographed by Denise Ranger, while Andrew Howe-Davies’ clever set design switches from being a Gasoline Alley garage forecourt to a bedroom, a bus, a bar and a glitzy nightclub.

But it’s the show’s musicians under the guidance of musical director Griff Johnson – they’re half hidden most of the time above the main stage – who must take much of the plaudits for perfectly recreating the well-known songs that have made Roderick David Stewart CBE a household name across the entire world.

All Rod’s numbers – which span an amazing six decades – seem to work pretty well in the constraints of what is really a very predictable storyline. However that mattered not a jot to the majority of the mainly female audience who were there to clearly enjoy themselves … not that the males among them didn’t as well!

It’s all good fun as Tonight’s The Night author Ben Elton knows well. He’s fast becoming something of a theatre-land legend following his previous collaborations with both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Queen.

His first offering, The Beautiful Game about a troubled Northern Irish football team featuring Catholic and Protestant players, had success in the West End during early part of the last decade. However his second musical, We Will Rock You which featured a backlog of Queen hits, ran at the Dominion Theatre in London for 12 successful years until last month, although it’s still going strong in a dozen other countries around the world.

But for me, Ben Elton’s best has to be Love Never Dies, the sequel to Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. It whisks the Phantom from the Paris Opera House to New York State’s Coney Island fairground and while its best known melody is shared with another from The Beautiful Game, I’d love to see it re-emerge in Milton Keynes where it would surely play to a packed house every night.

Tonight’s The Night is a real feel-good show which gets the audience on its feet dancing and clapping along to a megamix of classic hits. It plays Milton Keynes until this Saturday (April 26) with tickets priced from £12.90 to £41.40 available from the theatre box office on 08448 717652 (booking fees apply) or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes