LONDON — The Rod Stewart songbook is set to rock the West End this fall when “Tonight’s the Night” — scored to Stewart’s back catalog — opens Nov. 6 at the Victoria Palace.
Twenty two Stewart songs will be harnessed to a Ben Elton book, with Elton, the writer-comedian whose West End scripting credits include “The Beautiful Game” and the ongoing “We Will Rock You,” also directing.
Rehearsals begin Aug. 18 at the Royal Shakespeare Company rehearsal rooms, a venue chosen, laughed co-producer Phil McIntyre, “to give (the show) some weight.”
A lunchtime press launch for the show at Joe Allen eatery in Covent Garden found a tanned Stewart, 58, flanked by McIntyre and the singer’s long-time manager, Arnold Stiefel. McIntyre and Stiefel are backing the £4 million ($6.6 million) show, with a further $1.65 million earmarked for marketing.
Four leads from the 36-strong cast belted out such Stewart standards as “Maggie May,” “Sailing” and “Stay With Me.” The company is headed by 33-year-old Canadian performer Tim Howar as the nerdy Stewart, who falls in love with Dianne Pilkington’s Mary. Stewart lookalike Mike McKell, a Londoner, plays Woody, the self-evident Stewart surrogate in the show.
An earlier version of the musical was workshopped a year ago at the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, featuring the same principals who appeared at Tuesday’s launch (Hannah Waddingham, Rizzo in the West End’s ongoing revival of “Grease,” among them).
“Tonight’s the Night” is the latest, but unlikely to be the last, such pop anthology to hit the West End. It follows “Mamma Mia!” and “We Will Rock You,” two sellouts drawn from the songs of ABBA and Queen, respectively, as well as the Olivier Award-winning “Our House,” the Madness musical, which has been considerably less successful.
McIntyre is among those behind “We Will Rock You,” which survived largely withering reviews in May 2002, to pay back its $11.14 million costs within a year at the Dominion Theater. Average attendance across the year, McIntyre told Daily Variety, has been near 90%.
Like “Rock You,” which hasn’t been shy about pushing the envelope on West End ticket prices, “Tonight’s the Night” is planning a weekend top ticket of $82.50 — reasonable by Broadway standards, perhaps, but pricey for London. The Victoria Palace seats only 1,550, whereas the Dominion, home to “Rock You,” can hold 2,100.
McIntyre was keen to place the relatively dear ducat in context. “We’re trying to catch up with Broadway,” he said.
Stewart’s last album, “It Had to Be You,” has sold more than 3 million units. The followup, “The Great American Songbook, Part 2,” is set to be released in the U.K. by BMG and the U.S. by J Records in late October, just in time for the previews, which begin Oct. 15.