MusicalNorth WestReview

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Book/Director: Jon Conway
Reviewer: Mel Duncan


Jukebox musicals have been around for a time, and are consistently popular in terms of audience figures, and box office returns. The latest offering from Jon Conway, a notable writer within this genre, should set the stage for an unmissable evening.

The story centres around Ibiza nightspot Club Nirvana, and follows the fortunes of Rick (David Hasselhoff) and his girlfriend Mandy (Kim Tiddy), managing the arrival of daughter Penny (Stephanie Webber) alongside troubles in his club. A subplot centres around holidaymakers Shazza (Emily Penny) and Amber (Natalie Amanda Gray), and Jose (Tam Ryan) providing much of the comic relief.

The lack of a synopsis in the programme would suggest that narrative is not the main focus of this musical, and this is very much the case. There are huge holes in the plot, among others a distinctive (beautifully lilting) Welsh accent from Penny (Webber), despite having only been in Wales for her mid-teens, and a decidedly Southern accent in the video footage showing her mother.

Pre-show entertainment by Will Markus, though engaging and amusing, is reminiscent of entering a Butlin’s Clubhouse rather than a Balearic club- the presumably intended feel. The set is simple but effective, with Pete Kramer’s lighting design the icing on the cake, club-like on the surface, but with many moments of beautiful subtlety.

Confusion reigns as the projection screen lifts to reveal two musicians, stuck inside what can only be described as a cage constructed under the scaffold of the centre staging. Despite escaping briefly for a short cameo in a Act Two, they unfortunately do not appear to add anything to the pre recorded performance tracks used throughout.

Sound level balance issues caused the opening number to appear to be instrumental – luckily Webber gets to reprise this song at the end, and showcase for a final time her beautiful vocals. Less beautiful was the offering made by the son of Conway’s Boogie Nights’ co-writer Shane Ritchie. Shane Ritchie Jr. gave a nasal and uncomfortable performance, in vocal, dramatic and choreographical capacities. To be fair, some of the vocal issues were caused by him being mic-ed at almost double the volume of any other cast member, but some moments such as Webber’s beautiful interpretation of the Tiffany classic I Think We’re Alone Now are ruined by the addition of his harmonies.

A role model is provided in the form of the Hoff- a consummate professional using his charisma and charm to get him through a number of tricky situations- prop misplacement, and heckling from the audience. His on stage partnership with Tam Ryan is warm and engaging.

Projection adds a new dimension to the otherwise tired jukebox musical format. A funny and tongue in cheek projection moment shows flashbacks of the Hoff’s career before his first stage entry, but the often pixelated and sometimes tired projection questions the consideration given to it as a theatrical device, and it is tricky to gauge the addition made to the show through its use.

Inclusive and engaging moments are provided by the dancers, who re-inject energy into the performance, and and Penny, Gray and Ryan, who bring well timed moments of humour, and cleverly delivered stereotypical caricature depictions. The number one moment in this show is the opener to Act Two – an unashamed rendition of the iconic Baywatch theme, performed by the Hoff, involving the whole company.

Rather like the record refusing to sit on the spindle at the top of the show, this musical just fails to spin- mishaps and sloppiness do nothing to make good an initially clunky script.

Runs until Saturday 23rd January 2016 | Image: Linda Lusardi



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