Wednesday, 14 May 2014

THEATRE REVIEW: Tonight's The Night

The Rod Stewart musical wows Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum

Amongst the most publicly revered yet critically maligned genres in musical theatre, the jukebox musical is equally as liable to excite as to irritate. What most may see as a warm and winning pop journey down memory lane could be little more than a superficial, pandering cheesefest to others. Any show that writes the songs around the story, as opposed to the story around the songs, is treading a very fine line. Luckily, Tonight's The Night falls on the right side of it: Ben Elton, the music of Rod Stewart, stylish execution and a very gifted cast have given this divisive genre a new lease of life.

Opening promisingly with a surprisingly tender version of Stewart's "Gasoline Alley", Tonight's The Night tells the story of another Stewart, or rather Stuart - "Stu", even - played by Ben Heathcote. Stu is a rather shy, bespectacled young man who believes he has neither the rod nor the art for impressing the ladies (foreshadowing or what?) and can't find it in himself to tell his dream girl, Mary (Jenna Lee-James) how he really feels. If only he were a rock star... and, as if on cue, the Devil (Tiffany Graves in one of two roles) is there to grant his wish, trading Stu's soul for Stewart's. Typically, this newly confident, charismatic persona is too much for Stu to resist. And, needless to say, it's only a matter of time before Stu learns that it's not all about him, with great (or no) power comes great (or no) responsibility, and you need to treat your woman right.

It's no understatement to say that Tonight's The Night is loaded with familiarity: the West Side Story-Happy Days-Grease aesthetic, stock characters and the universal message that no matter how hard you try or wish to be someone you're not, the essence of you will always remain, and people will appreciate this essence above all else. (In short: Be Yourself.) But a key rule about art of any kind, even - especially - musicals, is that it's not about the presence of clichés, which are taken as a given these days, but the application of clichés. And Tonight's The Night infuses every single one of its elements with crackling dedication, energy and chemistry.

The winning concept of one man's struggle with a new identity and how it affects everyone around him, from true friends to new "friends", is carried off with considerable aplomb. Even this non-fan of Rod Stewart finds himself enjoying, humming and tapping his feet to tunes such as "Maggie May", "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy", "Stone Cold Sober" and many more, and the cast and production team deserve full credit for that. Without a trace of subtlety and pretence, Tonight's The Night embraces the essence of Stewart - and we welcome it!

This essence seems to come naturally to Ben Heathcote, who convinces as both nerd and rock star by transcending mere mimicry and presenting a more rounded character. He is surrounded by quite an array of talent; Ricky Rojas channels Russell Brand's Aldous Snow with highly amusing results, and former Sugababe Jade Ewen, despite being underused, delivers a wonderfully touching rendition of "The First Cut Is The Deepest." Perhaps most impressive, though, is Jenna Lee-James' passionate projection of the hopes and fears of an apparent ingénue, a young woman fighting to cope with her own true love's change in personality.

Visually, Tonight's The Night scores top marks. Lively choreography and multi-layered, colourful set design, the latter by Andrew Howe-Davies of Father Ted and Vicar Of Dibley fame, contribute to a very enjoyable and on the whole interactive experience which sees the rather large Millennium Forum audience singing "Sailing" with paper hats by show's end. One leaves the venue having felt part of a not transformative, but fully immersive production. Rod Stewart fans and musical lovers should definitely check Tonight's The Night out; they won't be disappointed.

Tonight's The Night runs at the Millennium Forum until Saturday May 17. For more information click here.


Anonymous said...

Really gd show well worth going to see really enjoyed it last nite