July 9, 2014
The jukebox musical is not a new invention - in many ways the genre began long ago with John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (which made great use of some of the popular tunes of the time.) There are many examples of long-running successful jukebox shows - Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You and Our House. I don't feel that Tonight's the Night will reach similar heights, as I thought it to be almost entirely without merit.
If you look at the shows that have made this format work, there is an inherent theatricality to the back catalogue of the acts in question. Abba, Queen and Madness all have strong story-telling at the heart of their music - for me, Rod Stewart's compositions simply do not have that necessary narrative drive. His songs don't move me forward emotionally, nor travel any further than the central premise of the lyric. And thus they did not transfer well to the stage, where you need the songs to do more than just punctuate the action.
Then there is Ben Elton's script. We Will Rock You was hardly a masterpiece of comedic invention. Indeed the book is much derided for lacking credible characters or a decent plot arc. To my mind, his work on Tonight's The Night makes We Will Rock You look like Shakespeare. I consider it a derivative and pedestrian piece of writing.
Sometimes a weak script or score can be rescued by good performances. And there is no doubting the commitment and talent on display from the cast. However their hard work and enthusiasm is not enough to rescue it as a piece of musical theatre. Rosie Heath delivers, for me, the most emotionally engaging performance of the night as Dee Dee - finding a truth in her performance of 'What am I gonna Do?'
Visually the show has been well put together - with a compact and effective set from Andrew Howe-Davies and a clearly delineated lighting design by Adam Bassett. The sound is well controlled by Rory Madden - though the lyrics do, occasionally, get drowned by the enthusiastic (and very enjoyable) band under the baton of Griff Johnson.
Whilst the technical elements are strong, the direction is less secure. All too often, the pacing of the action slips and the audience are left uncertain as to whether a number has ended or it is simply a pause - and in a piece like this, energy and momentum are critical. The choreography is not always in keeping with the genre of the music in the score. The songs have the rasping, rock edge that we know of Rod Stewart, but the choreography and musical staging fails to reflect this consistently and frequently falls back on traditional 'Musical Theatre' steps that look out of place.
No doubt fans of Rod Stewart will find much to enjoy from this. For me, as a lover of musical theatre, I was left completely unimpressed at the piece and wishing that I had seen the cast tackle better material. I cannot, in all honesty, recommend this to anyone other than a die-hard Stewart fan.