Written and directed by Debbie Isitt
Ambassador Theatre Group Productions
Opera House, Manchester
November 2-25, 2023; 2 hrs 30mins
(Also Liverpool Empire, April 15-20, 2024)
As someone else said, if you could bottle Benidorm, I Should Be So Lucky would be the result. It's a sparkly homage to the ultimate pink-boa’d hen weekend and as camp as Christmas. They serve Kylie Prosecco on stage and in the bar.
Depending on your point of view, these are either fabulous things or things to be avoided at all cost. I’m not taking sides – my nerves couldn’t take it; there are pictures of me somewhere in a hen-night tinsel wig and my son’s Italian in-laws would never speak to me again if I dissed anyone’s Prosecco.
But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming) none of that lets this show off the hook. My other half used to justify all manner of sloppy films on the basis that they were PFE – with the P standing for pure and the E for entertainment. It was no excuse then and it isn’t now.
The Stock Aitken Waterman back catalogue is a truly remarkable beast. As writers and producers they spent three and half years without a break in the UK Top 40 in the late 1980s, and had more than 100 chart hits. This is the first time they have sanctioned the use of their work in a musical, and I Should Be So Lucky includes 10 No 1 singles and more than 25 songs from the Hit Factory.
The show’s award-winning creator, Debbie Isitt, is no slouch on the writing and production front either. Her Nativity! film franchise is a permanent seasonal fixture and the musical it spawned is due for another outing for Christmas 2024. We were expecting great things.
The opening of the story – the bride jilted at the altar, then carried off to the honeymoon anyway by her loving friends and family, on the groom’s credit card – may be performed with gusto but the script is hackneyed and the direction lumpy. For such a cast of seasoned musical actors, it lacks core comedy timing and finesse.
Things improve once they reach the honeymoon resort (“Turkey, not Torquay”) and the hotel staff ensemble comes into its own. Internationally-renowned choreographer Jason Gilkison has been creative director of Strictly Come Dancing for the past 10 years, and it shows. The routines are sharp, sassy and suddenly move us into West End territory. The show lifts significantly every time they break into a number.
In fact the hotel crew, for all the stock characterisation and lame lines, gamely carries the production, led by Jamie Chapman as the manager and Matthew Croke as the new love interest-cum-hot air balloon lothario.
But even the flimsiest of jukebox musicals needs storylines, and these are no more than throwaways for the most part – passing references to a secret, to theft and gambling. They are pretty insubstantial pegs for some brief moralising on relationships, scamming and addiction before we are back to the soundtrack and slapstick.
There’s also something oddly anachronistic about the show. The setting is now, but the smutty exchanges are very Benny Hill era (with an uncomfortable dash of Bernard Manning, my companion offered). The music is of course late 1980s pure pop, but the camp humour is Larry Grayson of the same era. rather than today’s stiletto-sharp drag (though the British camp comedy tradition is a long and honourable one). The stock characters of old British sitcoms are all there: the middle-aged husband who can’t make his own dinner, the boundary-free grandmother (Jemma Churchill, and never was a vajazzle joke made to work so hard), the mum at the centre of it all (Melissa Jacques, a stand-out voice) the chubby friend and the wayward sister.
But rather than being a celebration of this comedy treasure trove, the writing seems lazy and complacent, and comes a poor second to the music and dancing.
Bang up to date though is our Kylie. A digital, benign, fairy godmother in a magic mirror. She floods Ella the jilted bride (Lucie-Mae Sumner) with advice on being her own woman, staying strong and believing in her own potential, etc. etc. Which is grand, except that what she does with this advice is (spoiler alert) is forgive the man who jilted her. So not much of a stretch, really.
Of course new shows are constantly being refined, tightened and polished, and this one is a few drafts away from a West End-ready version. Mike Stock describe the show as a “shamelessly enjoyable rollercoaster ride through our hits”. The premiere knows how to play its audience – no doubt about it – and the reaction was ecstatic, so who am I to carp?
More info and tickets here