This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
First appearing in 2003, this jukebox musical has made a couple of tours around the country and has now arrived in Wimbledon. The show cherry picks the full back catalogue of Rod Stewart’s music with a storyline which certainly massages the ego and image of the singer.
An underwhelming opening soon gives way to a sweet duet of ‘You’re In My Heart’ by the leads Stuart and Mary, who are in love with each other. But the uncool and dorky Stuart can’t quite find the courage to ask her out. He chooses instead to make a pact with Satan to swap his soul with Rod Stewart. Soon after, Stuart gets the girl, joins a band and embarks on a tour across America. It is all rather standard and flat and gives the impression of being merely a vehicle to fit in all the hits. It is not until a secondary love story blossoms with the song ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ in the second half that the show hits any emotional depth.
The self-referential nature of the book means it can play up to the cool, smooth lothario image of Rod Stewart and do so without any negativity. At the same time, it makes fun of the sensitivity of the boring Stuart who prefers a relaxing shiatsu and reflexology massage instead of being surrounded by five naked masseuse. The show may be too eager to please or even lacking in confidence as ‘Stay With Me’ is reprised three times just before the interval as if to plead with the audience to stay for the second half.
There are not many big song and dance numbers, mostly solos and duets which make the show feel like a smaller production than it is. The music is certainly pleasing even to non-fans and the audience all joins in for the final sing along wearing song appropriate hats handed out during the interval. It is not often that the audience gets to go home with a hat, even if it is only a paper hat.
Jokes are more miss than hit and some so corny that they feel like they belong to another era, though a joke on Keith Richards’ appearance is spot on. Michael McKell provides the perfect comedic antidote with his performance as Stuart’s band guitarist Stoner, channeling his inner TOWIE with great comedic timing.
Ben Heathcote as Stuart, with spiky hair and ceaselessly bounding around the stage, has Stewart’s vocal range and shrill quality without the huskiness. There are excellent solos by ex-Sugababes and Eurovision contestant Jade Ewen playing Mary’s friend Dee Dee. Ewen’s delicate vocal is contrasted with the more powerful and hearty turns by Jenna Lee-James as Mary and Tiffany Graves’s Satan/Baby Jane.
This is perhaps not the best written nor musically stimulating show there is. But there is enough in the performance and music to justify its existence and the mass singalong at the end is the perfect proof.
Photo: Alastair Muir