Review: I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical at Liverpool Theatre Festival *****
Liverpool Theatre Festival started life back in 2020 to support the city’s live performance and creative arts sector which – like so much else – had been decimated by the pandemic.
Three years, several lockdowns and numerous Covid strains later, the third (now award-winning) annual festival is underway, opening coincidentally on the same day the Covid alert was downgraded to its lowest level yet.
While the physical threat from the virus may have receded, theatre and other venues are still struggling with the aftermath – as well as facing new challenges as we hurtle towards a turbulent autumn.
So it’s arguably even more important to offer audiences a chance to engage with and enjoy live performance, and at a price hard-pressed pockets can afford.
And there’s certainly much to enjoy in Alexander S Bermange’s delightfully witty and wry revue I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical, arriving at the festival hotfoot from a second successful year as a hot ticket at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Bermange was inspired to write the show - which gives audiences a peek behind the curtain into the world of musical theatre – after becoming aware there was a real appetite from theatregoers to know more about the lives of actors and what really goes on backstage.
He garnered stories from friends in the business, and has polished them into a comic revue bursting with a wide range of song styles filled with sharp and slyly clever lyrics (along with nods to all manner of musicals), delivered by a close-knit quartet of triple threat actors with a long list of musicals' credits from Joseph, Titanic and Le Mis to, perhaps aptly given the subject matter, The Producers.
Above: Liverpool Theatre Festival at the Bombed Out Church. Top: Luke Harley, Alice Ellen Wright, Holly Prentice and Harry Winchester in I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical. Photos by David Munn.
There are plenty of in-jokes and industry characters for those in the biz to relish, but Bermange (also acting here as MD) is canny in also drawing in his audience as a confidant, shining a light on the ambition – and the vulnerability – behind the fixed smiles and jazz hands.
The sung-through narrative sweeps us on a rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of a musical theatre career; from audition nerves and derailed showcases to that first exciting big break, sick bed resurrections to tendon-shredding tap routines (“choreographed by a masochist”), and superstitions and rituals to feuding co-stars, awful divas (who munificently give their understudy ‘a chance’ at every matinee) and crazy fans.
While it’s big on laughs, there’s also poignancy too courtesy of Harry Winchester who gives voice to the unsung heroes and heroines that spend their careers on ‘stand by’ in case the star name is indisposed, their joy when that big moment finally comes quickly doused by a tidal wave of disappointment from the audience.
Awful audition experiences, crippling dance numbers, backstage backstabbing and stage door stalkers. You might well ask, why do it?
Like all musicals, you need to wait for the uplifting finale to provide the answer.