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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Tonight's the Night
Victoria Palace Theatre     2003-2004

If you are a Rod Stewart fan, you should love this musical - it's full of his songs (I lost count, but it's at least 25).

If you're not a Rod Stewart fan, it may take the show a little longer to win you over, but it probably will, with its genial high spirits and good rocking.

Following the current mode, Ben Elton has written a skeleton plot on which to hang as much of the Stewart songbook as possible. He has a shy nerdy guy sell his soul to the devil in return for Rod Stewart's soul.

This makes him sexier and more confident, and able to win the girl he loves, but it also makes him a boozing sexist rocker, thereby losing the girl again.

Meanwhile, the never-seen Stewart, temporarily holding the boy's soul, is becoming a wistful tree-hugging wimp, until the devil gets bored with both of them and puts things back the way they were.

Boy gets soul and girl, Stewart (we are told) gets his mojo back, and all's well.

Those with long memories will recall Willy Russell's John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert two decades ago, in which a fan imagined himself a Beatle.

And those with even longer memories will think of the Adler-Ross Damn Yankees of 1955, about a baseball fan who sold his soul to the devil to become a player and help his team win.

For that matter, one might recall Ben Elton's own book for the current We Will Rock You, in which a boy channels the spirit of Freddy Mercury. As a writer of musicals, Elton is never any more original than is absolutely necessary.

But that really doesn't matter, since the plot is just an excuse for the songs. (Both We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia have silly books, but great music; the recent Our House had a rather clever book, but weak songs.)

And only occasionally does the shoe-horning of songs into script show. When Rod Stewart's manager shows up and is introduced as Baby Jane, we can hear the song cue, and when she mentions in passing that her real name is Maggie, we know it's only a matter of time. . . .

And although the show is structured so that the best songs come in the second half - one reason why the non-fan may take a while to warm to it - they are good. What's more, they turn out to be inherently theatrical in unexpected ways.

Stewart's love and torch songs, like 'You're in my Heart' and 'Infatuation', have an inherent dramatic structure that works well onstage, while the more rocking songs, like 'Do You Think I'm Sexy', lend themselves to big production numbers.

By the time we get to 'Sailing' as a finale, the audience are swaying and even singing along.

Serving as his own director, Ben Elton keeps things moving, and Stephen Mear's choreography has has an enjoyably retro early-eighties Arlene Phillips feel.

Tim Howar seems more at home with the transformed hero than the nerdy version, though his rooster-strutting rocker may owe more to Jagger than Stewart.

Dianne Pilkington has what would be the thankless role of the girl back home were she not given some of the strongest dramatic songs, to which she does full justice.

Catherine Porter, as the power-brokering manager, and Hannah Waddingham, as a Satan few could resist, contribute mightily to the show's sexual energy; and Michael McKell steals all his scenes as a stoned rocker.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Tonight's The Night - Victoria Palace Theatre 2003