Review by Daz Gale
In my imagination, there is no complication – the world should have seen a Kylie Minogue musical by now. I’m dreaming! Filling the Kylie shaped hole in the musical theatre world is the brand new musical I Should Be So Lucky named after her single and featuring the iconic songbook of Stock Aitken Waterman who were responsible for many a hit in the 80s and 90s. With a loud campaign and the pop Princess herself getting involved with the production, all my hopes were pinned on this musical being the next Mamma Mia but would this be another hit for the hit factory?
This world premiere musical has kicked off with an extensive UK tour, beginning with a month at Manchester Opera House – the go to city for many a new musical to begin of late. I Should Be So Lucky begins with the wedding of Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner) and Nathan (Billy Roberts) only for the wedding to be called off. The obvious thing to do is for Ella to go on her honeymoon with her family so off they fly to Turkey where they deal with old rivals, new suitors and old flames regretting their choices… all to the tunes of Rick Astley, Sonia and Bananarama. Camp!
If ever a show felt like it was made especially for me, it’s this. As well as musical theatre being a huge passion of mine (which may come as a surprise to you all, I like to keep that hidden), I have a lifelong love of the music of Stock Aitken Waterman (flashback of 5 year old Daz dancing around the house to Jason Donovan and Sinitta songs) with my love for Kylie knowing no limits. When it came to writing this, I was torn as there are two distinctly opposing ways to approach this musical which appeal to different parts of my theatre loving brain. Bear with it as I try to balance both of them and find a happy medium.
A word of warning to anyone reading who is adverse to my terrible puns, particularly if they're based on Stock Aitken Waterman song titles, apologies but I'm never gonna give them up.
The songbook of Stock Aitken Waterman is classic in its own right with its distinctive sound dominating the charts in the 1980s and 1990s. To step back in time and experience so many of the songs recreated on stage is a dream for the generations who lived through the music of discovered it in later years. Many of their timeless tunes are crammed in to two speedy hours with Jason Donovan’s ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, Sinitta’s ‘Toy Boy’ and no less than eight Kylie songs including ‘Hand On Your Heart’ and of course the song that gives the show its title, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ (try saying that without a three further luckys).
The musical arrangements predominantly keep to the tried and tested style which made the sound so legendary, not attempting to rock the boat. This works for the most part though a couple of the arrangements do come across as slightly tired. Where the show comes close to brilliance is when they try to convert the songs into a more musical theatre song with a beautiful rendition of Sonia’s ‘You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You’ turned into a gorgeous ballad and performed impeccably by Kayla Carter bringing a much needed bit of versatility in to the mix. I personally would have liked to have seen more songs tweaked in this way, but I understand why the majority of numbers had their essence retained in a show that is clearly designed to please a ready and willing audience.
With around 30 songs squeezed in to the show, many of them suffer from having abbreviated versions performed, at times reduced to snippets. This was slightly frustrating as these numbers weren’t always given the chance to breathe and explode in the way the original recordings did. Transitioning from one number to another then back to the other with seemingly endless reprises of several of the more famous numbers did become a bit jarring throughout. I got the sense that the show could have benefited from cutting a few of the numbers to let the other ones play out to their full potential.
This musical is lucky to boast a truly magnificent cast full of theatre favourites to bring the story to life. Lucky lucky lucky! Lucie-Mae Sumner shines in what theoretically is the lead role as Ella, though her story is often eclipsed by bigger characters in the show, she more than holds her own, culminating in a rousing ‘Venus’ when she gets front and centre. Melissa Jacques once again proves what a powerhouse performer she is as Ella’s mother Shelley, getting a standout moment with ‘Telltale Signs’ showcasing her vocal abilities. Jemma Churchill is drastically underused as Ella’s nan Ivy, but gets some great moments of her own, even if the revelations regarding her past prove to be one step too far.
Giovanni Spano delights with an over the top characterisation of Ash, bringing a lot of heart and humour to the role. This is elevated further in his scenes with Kayla Carter who amazes with her turn as Bonnie and getting one of the biggest moments of the show, delivered flawlessly. Matthew Croke gets a scene-stealing turn as the charismatic Nadeem in a performance that demands all eyes are on him when he is on stage, Jamie Chapman exudes joy as Spencer while Scott Paige dominates as the larger than life Michael. It may have been a character we have seen in similar shows numerous times but that doesn’t stop Scott’s performance being any less fabulous. Among the fantastic cast is also one Kylie Minogue herself who appears as Ella’s fairy godmother in a specially recorded digital performance that proves why she really is the fairest of them all.
I Should Be So Lucky is written by Debbie Isitt, who is perhaps best known for her brilliant writing on the Nativity movies and stage adaptation. A clearly talented writer in her own right with a track record that speaks for itself, unfortunately something doesn’t quite connect with the writing this time around. While it has no shortage of laugh out loud moments and witty one liners, the book is all but non-existent, paper thin and tied together so tenuously it risks coming undone at any moment. Clearly shoehorned in around the songs, the unnatural dialogue transcends past the point of cheese into a territory that veers dangerously close to cringe worthy. Underwritten characters and situations that moves from one thread to another, various strands and storylines are thrown together almost randomly, at times never being mentioned again or having a resolution to a storyline you hadn’t even realised existed as the pretty underwhelming ending delivers. I felt as if this show was trying to do too much. There is the sense that there are too many characters all with their own love interests and stories, none of whom got the chance to fully develop. Had the show simplified itself, picking a few key characters and stories to focus on, the end result could have been a lot stronger.
The book is by far the biggest problem with I Should Be So Lucky and I’ve deliberated on how much weight I should give it when it comes to this review. Had I been there purely as an audience member, I would have been swept up in the fun and camp madness of the story and not noticed how problematic and underwritten the show was. However, the moment I switch the reviewer side of my brain on, all of these issues come bubbling to the surface. Did it dampen my enjoyment of the show on a personal level? Not at all, but it wouldn’t be fair to completely gloss over the flaws in the story in this review. Finding the right balance for myself when watching this show and now having to write this has been a challenge in itself, and perhaps I’m overthinking something that is nothing more than harmless fun.
Debbie also directs the show which boasts some incredibly joyous and silly sequences, all executed well. The show is also full of great Easter eggs to witness such as the names of the boats and some Kylie references (and product placement) hidden away throughout, providing an extra smile or giggle (sometimes to the confusion of the person sat next to me). Tom Rogers’ glorious set design includes a gorgeous heart shaped proscenium but this detail is sometimes not matched by some shoddy looking set pieces and an underwhelming video design. Jason Gilkison’s choreography comes alive in some of the bigger moments in the show, with a number of show stopping sequences peppered throughout – none performed more sensationally than a particularly pleasing ‘Toy Boy’ in act 2. It was the brilliance of these numbers that showed up the varying and inconsistent quality throughout as this is a show where the highs are very high but are rarely matched.
At its heart, I Should Be So Lucky is a harmless show that strives to make an audience feel good without rocking the boat or conveying a serious message, and where’s the harm in that? Not every show needs to change your life, some of them are perfectly adequate to give you a much needed of escapism. I had to think long and hard about how much I liked this show both personally and as a reviewer and came to the conclusion that this was a perfectly enjoyable show but one with a few too many flaws. I got the sense that too many ideas had been thrown together and it maybe needed a little bit more time to develop before being thrown into the public eye but with a show as joyous as this, it is easy to forgive and forget. They may have been trying to make a musical that is befitting to Kylie’s goddess like status but instead made one that felt more Dannii than Kylie (make of that what you will).
The strengths I Should Be So Lucky has going for it mitigate some of the weaker moments to create a show that may not quite stand up to its counterparts (Mamma Mia! Being an obvious comparison) but is still perfectly fine as it is. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I wouldn’t change a thing as it does have the potential to be better than it currently is if it was to streamline the storyline and tweak the writing a bit. After all, it’s never too late.
I Should Be So Lucky plays at Manchester Opera House until 25th November and then tours all over the UK & Ireland until May 2024.
Photos by Marc Brenner