LAST NIGHT A DJ SAVED MY LIFE
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th November, 2015
Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds. This one cobbles together tunes from the 80s and early 90s. The setting is the party island of Ibiza and the plot, such as it is, concerns young Penny from Wales, flying out to spend time with her estranged father who runs a club. On the way she meets and falls for a club rep – Daddy doesn’t approve of their relationship, even though he is now seeing a woman half his age. Add to this a storyline about the drugs scene – the wide-boy bouncer is selling ecstasy in the club – and, well, that’s about it.
It’s a loud, brash, colourful affair and all a bit too holiday-camp for my liking, where importuning people to clap along means you’re giving them a good time. We are encouraged to take selfies to be projected on screen during the interval. No, thank you.
The big draw of the show is David Hoff (he doesn’t want the Hassel anymore) as club owner, Ross. Never one to take himself too seriously, there are lots of in-jokes and direct references to his earlier career, including an obligatory Baywatch routine. It just seems a little tired. He gives us a passable rendition of Barry Manilow’s Even Now but later songs have him just yelling. The comic timing is there, especially in scenes with Tam Ryan as Spanish barman Jose (who must be the grandson of Andrew Sachs’s Manuel). The presence of the Hoff is not enough to keep me enthused, in this almost relentless barrage of light and noise.
Tam Ryan is an asset – with his ad libs and juggling – and Barry Bloxham’s drug-pushing Ebenezer (what else?!) makes you want to boo him for all the right reasons. There’s a bizarre scene when the Hoff unwittingly drops an E that has to be seen to be disbelieved.
Like other shows of its kind, there is a bid to cram in as many songs as possible, never mind how tenuous the relevance. It’s a nostalgia fest, basically. But unlike shows which celebrate other eras in popular music, here the genres covered tend not to allow for emotive singing. There is something dispassionate about it, which doesn’t help us to engage or the characters to grow. Penny (a likeable Stephanie Webber) alone with club rep paramour Rik (Shane Richie Junior) at last, bursts forth with a hi-energy rendition of Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. It’s the crack-your-nuts-with-a-sledgehammer approach. By the end of the show I feel like I’ve been beaten about the head with the entire collection of House Anthems and Now That’s What I Call Music.
Director Jon Conway’s script has an affable quality to it – I like corny jokes – but this is barely a step away from panto for grown-ups. There is enough colour and energy coming from the cast to make you want to like it: the costumes by Linda Lusardi and Lucy Kane scream ‘Fun!’, and the chorus hurl themselves through Chris Baldock’s in-period choreography with boundless enthusiasm. But it’s just not doing it for me. The wafer-thin subplots with their facile resolutions, the forced nature of the audience participation, and the fact that I didn’t particularly like the music the first time around, all serve to put me off. Undemanding, I don’t mind. Uninvolving, is a waste of time.
Plenty of people were having a great time, though. If you’re looking for light and unchallenging fare, a trip down Memory Lane on the Vengabus, this might be the show for you. It’s just not my cup of tea.