After We Will Rock You, now it's the turn of We Will Rod You, as some wags have already labelled Ben Elton's tribute to Rod Stewart, Tonight's the Night.
Actually, there's a lot of Rod - not to mention his rod, as Elton tirelessly and tiresomely does - in it. Even though he's an offstage character, we get to visit his house - the gates of which bear a coat of arms and inscription that reads 'Booze/Balls/Birds', to subtly convey his principal obsessions - and meet his powerful lady manager, Baby Jane Golden (Catherine Porter), his camp valet Jorge (Howard Samuels), and even a bevy of masseuses, who have come to, er, pamper him.
And thanks to the interventions of a female, cat-suited Satan (Hannah Waddingham), our Rod is also currently inhabiting the heart, soul (and, I'm sorry to say, balls) of a nerdy mechanic called Stuart Clutterbuck (Tim Howar) who, as a result, has turned into a rock 'n' roll lothario. Meanwhile, Rod himself has holed himself up inside his mansion, we're told, where to the consternation of his manager, he's working on a CD of whale music and a verse play riposte to The Vagina Monologues, entitled "The Penis Apologises".
"If Rod's penis starts apologising," the manager complains, "it could take years to get through the back catalogue." She should know: "I've had the best part of Rod inside me," she tells us later, with the characteristic lack of subtlety of Elton's groan-inducing book.
Actually, it's the back catalogue of Rod's songs that takes hours - nearly three of them -- to get through, as Elton shoe-horns them, Mamma Mia!-like but without the finesse, wit or style, into decorating the proceedings. Since they're what the punters have actually come to hear, the endless, clunky book scenes weigh proceedings down quite a bit. Elton overpopulates it, too - characters are introduced, like Debbie Kurup's Dee Dee, that are fatally under-developed and disappear for long stretches.
So what of the Sing-a-long-a-Rod part of the evening? (And some members of the audience were treating it as such, even on press night!) It's done with quite a bit of musical distinction and conviction, and though I'm not about to sign up to the Rod fan club, I may actually buy the cast album. Under Gareth Valentine's punchy musical supervision and Nick Finlow's musical direction of a small six-piece band, they make some of these songs sound better than Stewart did himself! Here are some fine pop melodies without the fingers-on-a-blackboard sound of Rod's rasp.
I'll also take cute young Tim Howar over the grizzled Rod any day, too. And Hannah Waddingham's high-camp Satan also whips up a devilish vocal storm, while Michael McKell turns in an amusing, scene-stealing performance as Stoner, a highly marinated, jobbing rocker created in Keith Richards' image.
The less said about the dancing, however, in Stephen Mear's Top of the Pops style choreography, the better: as Waddingham launched into 'Infatuation', I really thought I'd been transported back to the ill-fated and dire Dance of the Vampires on Broadway. It's difficult to believe that this is the same choreographer behind the infectious dance pleasures of Anything Goes.
- Mark Shenton