More Reason To Believe

Tonight’s The Night

The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

BEN Elton has made quite a journey since his angry, ranting alternative comedy days of the 1980s.  Few people would have imagined that this edgy, anti-Thatcher figure would go on to write mainstream, safe and extremely commercial musicals. Socialism, it seemed, was simply not paying enough!

Tonight’s The Night is Elton’s second compilation musical, following on from the hugely successful We Will Rock You.  The formula is the same. Take a bunch of well known, crowd pleasing songs and construct a storyline around them.

The key is to find music with mass appeal. Queen ticked the boxes for We Will Rock You and Rod Stewart does the job here.  Its nothing new, of course, Mamma Mia has been filling theatres around the world for years.  You can’t keep a good tune down and as recipe for box office success, it’s potentially a good one.

What disappoints slightly here is the storyline. Given Mr Eltons undoubted pedigree (this is the man, lets not forget , who wrote ‘ Black Adder), you might think that the story would be a strength.  What we have, though, is a very simple tale that has been told so often before. Shy kid from the back streets becomes famous, forgets his roots, dumps his girlfriend, sees the error of his ways and it all ends happily ever after.

Of course, its all about the music but that doesn’t mean there can’t be an imaginative story to accompany it. Unlike We Will Rock which contains some wonderfully drawn out and interesting characters, there is no one, barring the Keith Richard inspired Stoner (beautifully played by Michael McKell ) of any great interest here.  What that leaves us with is essentially a Rod Stewart  concert with a few simple scenes in between. Fine, on a musical level. Frustrating, as a piece of theatre.

At times, mostly towards the end, the energy is cranked up and the music and choreography combine with real excitement. Do You Think I’m Sexy is a real highlight but the zest and feel good factor is left a little late and need to be more in the mix throughout.  The skills of a terrific ensemble cast are somewhat  wasted and under used.

Ready for tonight: Sugababe Jade Ewen, left, Michael McKell and Sinead Long, (originally from Birmingham), take a stroll outside the New Alexandra Theatre

Ben Heathcote struts his stuff with gusto as Stuart, the kid from Gasoline Alley with a dream to emulate his idol.  Jenna Lee James, as his impressively loyal girlfriend Mary, interprets some of Rod’s slower numbers with power and Jade Ewen, as Dee Dee, adds real soul and contrast in her delivery.  Tiffany Graves doubles up nicely as rock chic manager, Baby Jane and the hot as hell, Satan. Hell may not be a bad place to be after all if she is in charge!

Andy Ress gives a real and likeable performance as Rocky and McKell gets the laughs as Stoner  - a man high on many things, including life.

As a piece of escapist entertainment, Tonight’s The Night works well. Rod Stewart fans will love it. Familiar songs are played well by a tight onstage band and voices are strong and often poignant (though not always mixed perfectly)  Choreography is  dynamic, clever and sexy. In other words, much of this show has a lot going for it.  Add more interesting and drawn out characters together with a more imaginative storyline and it could be so much better.

If you like a bit of Rod, and lets face it, many do, you will come out smiling. Oh . . . and you get a free hat too. I’ll leave it you to guess what kind of hat that might be. To 01-03-14.

Tom Roberts

 

And sailing along in the rear . . .

****

PAPER sailors’ hats are handed out to the audience as they arrive for this Rod Stewart musical which cruises majestically through 25 of the super star’s hits.

And the majority of the customers dutifully popped them on during the opening night performance when the big moment arrived in the second act with the excellent cast  singing Sailing.

By then they had really warmed to Ben Elton’s amusing story of a geeky young man in Detroit who sells his soul to the devil for Rod’s and is transformed into a go-get ‘em wannabe star with girls galore, but in danger of losing the one he genuinely loves.

After a somewhat untidy, rather raucous opening, the show grows on you, particularly as the leads have such fine voices which do justice to the big numbers.

Ben Heathcote completes a perfect transformation from the nervy mechanic, Stuart, to a star in the making, rarely without a thin tartan scarf hanging from his waist, and Jenna Lee-James, playing his so-loyal girlfriend, Mary, sings beautifully, especially in Stay With Me and I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

It’s a sexy shows with gorgeous girls, and you hang in there wondering if Mary will tire of her rock star’s loose behaviour and be won over by his nice pal, Rocky (Andy Rees), who is deeply in love with her but can’ get close enough.

Terrific support, too, from Jade Ewen (Dee Dee), Tiffany Graves (Satan and Baby Jane), and Michael McKell (Stoner), and the reaction of the audience at the finale, on their feet, swaying, singing then cheering, says it all.

Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger with Griff Johnson’s musical direction and Denise Ranger’s choreography, to 01-03-14

Paul Marston 

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