You just might enjoy Stock Aitken Waterman’s full-on I Should Be So Lucky in spite of yourself

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stock Aitken Waterman’s I Should Be So Lucky – The Musical: Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, 12.3.2024. (JPr)

Lucie-Mae Sumner (Ella), Billy Roberts (Nathan) and ensemble © Marc Brenner

The interview with writer and director Debbie Isitt – of Nativity fame (something I have never seen) – in the programme explains how ‘Listening to the incredible catalogue of songs from Stock Aitkin and Waterman hit factory was truly inspiring [and] a story began to emerge. The songs are about love in all its forms: new love, unrequited love, lost love, secret love. I wanted to tell a story about love that goes wrong, and ultimately allow for familial love to play a large part in the healing of our jilted bride’s pain.’ And how, ‘Ultimately, I want audiences to have a great night out at the theatre, fall in love with the characters, feel empowered by the story, and of course go away singing these incredible uplifting songs. Stock Aitkin and Waterman [SAW] have written a brilliant smorgasbord of smash hits and it feels right and fitting that we get to celebrate their music in a fresh and fun new musical.’

So, I Should Be So Lucky is yet another jukebox musical. After Ella is left at the altar by her fiancé Nathan, along with the bridal party (mum Shelley, grandmother Ivy, sister Britney and besties Bonnie and Michael) they set off on the already paid-for honeymoon to a romantic Turkish resort for something now more like a hen do. Ella believing herself newly single falls in love with one of the members of staff, hotel tour guide Nadeem but soon Nathan, aided and abetted by best man Ash, arrives to win Ella back. Will true love win in the end? Well of course it does, because you’ve seen it all before in so many (better?) shows and films.

I can start by saying that I did laugh quite a bit and jig about in my seat (all I am capable of these days!) during the musical’s two-hour span though I think the Titanic when it went down had less holes than Debbie Isitt’s I Should Be So Lucky does. The family secret which makes Nathan flee the church is so feeble that it could have been resolved by a quick chat at the altar! The show is also reminding you constantly of all the other versions of the story you have seen on stage or screen, notably Mamma Mia or Shirley Valentine, the film Valentine’s Day or any similar romcom on the Hallmark Channel.

I am not an adherent to all the modern wokery but even I have to admit that it is 2024 and not the 1980s or 90s which was the heyday of SAW. I Should Be So Lucky wants to us to ‘Step Back in Time’ (!) in so many ways. It begins with a recorded introduction from Pete Waterman suggesting we might we watching with our mum or toyboy, dismissing a sizeable proportion of the population drawn to this musical. In broad terms, although we are taken to ‘Lovers Paradise’ in Turkey we might just as well – belly dancers notwithstanding – be with the holidaymakers at the unforgettable Palace Hotel on the Spanish resort of Elsbels seen in the 1972 Carry On Abroad because all the campery and dodgy accents seem so very familiar.

Yes, I repeat, I did laugh – though not everybody might – at the stereotypical gay characters, Spencer, the manager of Lovers Paradise, Michael, Ella’s BFF, and masseur Hassan; there is Nathan and Ash disguised as moustachioed Turkish waiters/gigolos (think Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and some rather near-the-knuckle innuendo. Funny as the sweary line about it is, perhaps dementia is not something we should be laughing at, nor is Britney’s gambling problem, and what about Shelley’s feckless husband, Big Mike, only turning up at the resort because he has run out of food at home!

SAW were the writers and producers on Kylie Minogue’s 1988 debut album (Kylie) and the rest is history. She has given the musical her imprimatur by appearing in it virtually as Emma’s fairy godmother empowering her to find her inner diva, her pop princess, and telling her how strong, beautiful and fabulous she is. (Along the way I Should Be So Lucky shamelessly promotes Kylie’s Rosé Prosecco!) The trouble is that Kylie has outlasted SAW by a few decades, and it would have been better if some of her more recent hits had been included. Just think how her 2023 Padam Padam would have suited Tom Rogers’s heart-shaped set and everything else heart-shaped we saw. There is, not surprisingly, a preponderance of Barbie-pink to Rogers’s extravagantly colourful costumes. Andrzej Goulding’s changing images on the large screen at the rear of the stage set the scene for the all the fast-moving action. Strictly’s Jason Gilkinson provides some high-energy – though distinctly cruise ship – choreography,

Stock Aitkin Waterman’s I Should Be So Lucky – The Musical © Marc Brenner

And fast-moving it all is: nobody ever seems to stand still for more than a couple of seconds because everyone seems to have their own pivotal part to play in the convoluted story and everything needs resolving rapidly in the show’s final few minutes, which it really isn’t. How wonderful it was to hear a beautiful rendition of Sonia’s hit You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You from Tegan Bannister (as Bonnie) during the first half because it was the first time a character stopped rushing around, shouting and singing at the top of their voice. All credit to musical director John Hodgson and his small band of six for their accompaniment of the singers but it was all much too loud. We had Kylie’s song I Should Be So Lucky as an earworm throughout what we saw and heard; there was an over-reliance on repeating that as well as others from the list of two dozens and more SAW songs – for their celebrated roster of artists – which were also reprised too often.

I mentioned ‘dodgy accents’ earlier and I wasn’t sure whether we were up north or in Essex but all credit to the team behind the show for adding in references to where they are performing and this week’s mentions include Canvey Island, the Basildon Premier Inn and TOTS, a much-missed Southend nightspot which closed in 2019. Oddly the very classy vocalist Giovanni Spanò as Ash speaks rather like Del Boy but sings with a mid-Atlantic accent!

Despite all I have written above, I cannot praise the entire cast highly enough for their talent and commitment to the cause. I have seen some hardworking ensembles in musicals at the Cliffs Pavilion recently, but none have shifted scenery, sang and danced so full-on and with such smiles on their faces. Ideally, I wouldn’t have mentioned anyone by name because in so doing it suggests any one of them is better than someone else. In this case no one really deserves to be singled out. It is perhaps because everyone looked as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, we all did, including those like me with major doubts about recommending you spend your hard-earned money to see I Should Be So Lucky.

Jim Pritchard

For more about I Should Be So Lucky on tour click here.

Music and Lyrics – Stock Aitken Waterman
Writer and Director – Debbie Isitt
Choreographer – Jason Gilkison
Musical Director and Orchestration – George Dyer
Set and Costume Design – Tom Rogers
Lighting designer – Howard Hudson
Sound designer – Ben Harrison
Video and Animation designer – Andrzej Goulding

Dominic Andersen – Revel Harrington III
Tegan Bannister – Bonnie
Laura Benazaize – Ensemble/Swing
Ralph Bogard – Hassan/Ensemble
Elliot Broadfoot – Ensemble
Jamie Chapman – Spencer
Jemma Churchill – Ivy
Matthew Croke – Nadeem
Emma Crossley – Ensemble
Jessica Daley – Britney
Gary Davis – Big Mike/Ensemble
Kade Ferraiolo – Ensemble/Dance Captain
Sydney Isitt-Ager – Helen/Ensemble
Melissa Jacques – Shelley
Joe Kelly – Ensemble
Aidan Nightingale – Ensemble
Scott Paige – Michael
Billy Roberts – Nathan
Giovanni Spanò – Ash
Lucie-Mae Sumner – Ella
Anna Unwin – Olivia
James Willoughby Moore- Ensemble
Louie Wood – Ensemble
Lauren Woolf – Ensemble

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