The story is set in a beauty parlour in the inner-city area of Sydney. Stiffy and Mo become the new owners of the parlour and attempt to pass themselves off as medical men.
The principle characters are Stiffy (a rabbit seller), Mo (aka Sol, Stiffy's mate: see note below), Harry Summer (a doctor and owner of the beauty parlour), Helen Summer (his wife), Uncle (Helen's rich uncle), Mary O'Shea (beauty parlour employee), Mrs De'Vere (Helen's housekeeper and 1st Assistant Beautifier), Italian Woman (a patient in version 1), Bill Bender (a patient in version 2).
The songs known to have been incorporated into the revusical, as it was originally conceived, were 'The Opening Chorus', 'Lady's Band', 'Antonio', 'Skylark Love', 'Men, Men, Men', and 'Here's to Love' (also reprised as the finale).
It is possible that What Oh Tonight later became Manicure, Sir? (aka The Beauty Parlour). In addition to Stiffy and Mo, both these revusicals include characters called Helen, Uncle, Mrs De'Vere, and Mary. No production called What Oh Tonight has been identifed after 1916, further suggesting that Phillips changed the title (and possibly some of the storyline).
Although Nat Phillips had been presenting his Stiffy character on stage for some years prior to the staging of What Oh Tonight, this particular one-act musical comedy marked the first occasion on which he and Roy Rene teamed up as a comic duo.
It is interesting to note, however, that while the on-stage partnership came to be known as Stiffy and Mo, the part of Mo Lazarus was originally written into the revusical as Sol McPherson, an Irish/Hebrew character (see Nat Phillips Collection manuscript). According to popular legend, Mo was decided upon by Roy Rene shortly before the company made its debut at the Princess Theatre in July 1916. The name is said to have been suggested by Bill Sadler, the theatre's well-known stage manager.
The Sydney theatre critics, writing of this opening production for the Nat Phillips Tabloid Musical Comedy Revue Company season at the Princess Theatre, were overwhelmingly positive. Australian Variety notes that Phillips, in particular, had 'identified himself with an original type in Stiffy, the hero of the revues at the Princess. The character is typically Australian and Nat has it true to life' (23 August 1916, n. pag).
An edited version of the original manauscript appears in '"What Oh Tonight": The Methodology Factor and Pre-1930s Australian Variety Theatre - Appendices', Clay Djubal, PhD Thesis, 2005, pp.34-48.
Two versions of the 'Patient' scene are provided in the Nat Phillips Collection manuscript (Fryer Library).
1916: Princess Theatre, Sydney, 8-14 July (return season: 19-25 August).