SEEING a Rod Stewart musical less than a week after watching the man himself perform a stunning two-hour set was perhaps a little unfair on the cast of the current tour of Tonight’s the Night.
But expectations, from me and the legions of Rod fans at the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday night, were high. And with a repertoire of infamous hits such as Hot Legs, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and This Old Heart of Mine, you would think any group of energetic young singers and dancers would be hard pushed to do a bad job.
Sadly, even with such a string of huge songs to work with and a Ben Elton script, the flimsy storyline, too many slowed down versions of these rock numbers and a distinct lack of pace in the first half particularly, meant Tonight was not their Night at all.
Set in Gasoline Alley in the US, Stuart (Ben Heathcote) is a shy, sensitive soul whose heart belonged to Mary (Jenna Lee-James) a long ago but he has never had the guts to utter a word to her. Faced with the offer of a lifetime, to swap his sorry soul for Rod Stewart’s legendary rocking confidence with the ladies (I did say the storyline was flimsy), Stuart promptly wins his woman before touring America and getting his wicked way with much of the female population.
Heathcote coped admirably with both his opposing characters and his physique, ever-increasing spiked hair and gravelly voice persuaded the audience to clap along with the up-tempo Rod hits. Unfortunately the live band on stage was far too loud for many of the vocals throughout the show, leaving many of us struggling to hear the lyrics and frequently losing interest in the song.
Lee-James clearly has a fabulous musical theatre voice which was by far the most audible and impressive of the night, with her versions You’re in My Heart, What Am I Gonna Do and, in particular, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, tugging at the heart strings.
Rosie Heath, as loyal friend Dee Dee, had one or two chances to show off her husky vocal tones and she did so especially well in the beautiful First Cut is the Deepest, receiving raucous applause from the moved audience.
But comedy character, the permanently drunk Stoner, presumably based on friends of Rod’s era Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, was the clear show stealer with Ricky Rojas putting in the most memorable performance of the night. Combining these past rock legends’ personas with a touch of Bill Nighy’s nearly-past-it rock character in Love, Actually complete with a giggly laugh which had us all cracking up as he tried to stay upright whilst taking great care not to spill his drink, Rojas was by far the best thing in Tonight’s the Night. With plenty of ad-libbing, his scenes with the second most impressive performer Tiffany Graves (Satan and Baby Jane) were hilarious and left us all wanting more of the duo.
Better known songs in the second half helped keep the pace moving and a finale of Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, the completely out of place but much loved Sailing and a megamix of the best selection of hits had the crowds on their feet clearly enjoying the chance to hear Rod’s songs in whatever guise.
Tonight’s the Night seemed to have won over Monday’s audience but remember, it is a musical performance. Do not going expecting to hear Rod Stewart songs as you know them and don’t anticipate the same level of enthusiasm for them as you get from the man himself.
Tonight’s the Night is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, July 5.