The credentials and ingredients for this show have merit. Director Jon Conway is a seasoned impresario for jukebox musicals, David Hasselhoff is an instantly recognisable name, Stephanie Webber looked strong as a finalist in The Voice playing Hoff’s stage daughter, and the Club music of the 80’s in Ibiza offers a feel -good nostalgic vibe. Premiering in Blackpool barely a month ago, this is the debut tour of this production.
As child I watched The Hoff avidly in his roles in Baywatch and Knight Rider, as a young adult the Club music of the era is ingrained in my psyche, so I approached the show with affection and optimism. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm soon ebbed away as the curtain rose.
The technical and sound issues which delayed the start, and persisted in the first half, can happen. But the production shortcomings were wholly foreseeable. Hasselhoff’s solos were of the genre previously only explored by Pierce Brosnan in “Mama Mia”, Shane Ritchie Junior simply did not have the vocal range to handle the songs he was given. The ensemble singing was insipid, the harmonies pretty much non-existent. Club music requires a driving bass beat. Two musicians, a drummer and an acoustic/electric guitarists played alongside arrangements which stripped the originals of their vitality. This was not Musical Supervisor Olly Ashmore’s finest hour. As the show opened we were invited, against usual convention, to take as many photos and video clips as we wished. In truth, some things are best forgotten rather than preserved, this being one of them.
Similarly, the choreography and dancing was authentic insofar as it portrayed inebriated youngsters partying, but failed to deliver to a standard required in a stage musical. However dancers Josephine Scammell and Barney Hudson shone by virtue of their talent, energy and commitment.
The narrative was awkward and clumsy. Ageing party DJ Ross ( Hasselhoff) is joined in Ibiza by estranged daughter Penny ( Webber) who falls prey to the drug culture in Ross’s club, but comes through it with the boy, Rik (Shane Ritchie Jnr). Ross addresses the audience directly when faced with a drug dilemma by his daughter – should he try Ecstacy in order that he can comment upon it? The cod moralising is embarrassing, the moral itself confused when Ross accidentally takes the drug, and the show picks up. Earlier the opportunity offered by a performance of “Ebeneezer Good” had been squandered when Ebeneezer ( Barry Bloxham) performed as a one dimensional Hackney drug dealer. The reason why the song originally was such a hit was that it was possible to enjoy the entire song, which has a fabulous beat, without knowing what it was about. That subtlety and ambivalence was wholly absent here. Perhaps if they had distributed drugs to everyone then the evening may have seemed better.
So the kernel of this show is The Hoff playing some club classics from the eighties, stood behind a dj platform and decks. It should be said that the audience, whilst laughing out loud at some of the shortcomings, enjoyed the music and stood to dance for the megamix finale. Two scenes alluded to his Knight Rider and Baywatch past, bringing a warm sense of nostalgia to proceedings.
Star of the show was Tam Ryan as Jose, the barman. Funny, nuanced, and with plenty of audience ad libs, his appearances always lifted the show, and he rightly took the plaudits of the audience for the curtain call.
Last Night a DJ saved my life continues until Saturday 21st November and continues on tour.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.