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Review: I Should be So Lucky at Liverpool Empire ***1/2

The number and range of jukebox musicals has exploded since they first became a fixture of the theatrical scene – and particularly over the past quarter of a century since Mamma Mia! burst into life.

From The Beatles to Bob Dylan, and The Kinks to Carole King, soundtracks have formed well, the soundtrack, to dozens of shows, from celebratory biopics (think Beautiful, Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon and Lennon) to storylines of varying depth and intricacy plotted purely around sets of song lyrics.

Here in I Should be So Lucky, premiered last November and currently touring, writer/director Debbie Isitt (the woman behind Nativity! the Musical) has plundered the back catalogue not of one artist or group, but of the mighty hit factory that was Stock Aitken Waterman.

The trio dominated the charts in the late 80s and early 90s with their brand of irrepressible up-tempo synthpop, selling more than 150 million records and accounting for more than 100 top 40 hits for acts including (along with Kylie and Jason) our Sonia, Dead or Alive and Newton le Willows’ finest Rick Astley.

The result is an exuberant romp through some of SAW’s biggest poptastic numbers, woven together by a plot that – while nodding in the direction of Mamma Mia! - is so preposterous it could surely only be the result of a cheese dream.

Hapless groom Nathan (Billy Roberts) abandons his bride Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner) at the altar after being given some disturbing family news by his confused grandfather (think Kenneth Waller’s querulous Grandad Boswell in Bread).

The distraught Ella’s family decides what she needs is to put some space between her and her errant fiancé and so the whole lot of them – save for dad ‘Big Mike’ – decamp to the Turkish coast where they take up residence in the couple’s romantic honeymoon resort.

Above: Gran Ivy (Jemma Churchill) and bride Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner). Top: The cast. Photos by Marc Brenner.

Here, salved by hotel staff led by Jamie Chapman’s major-domo Spencer, they get into all kinds of scrapes and embark on escapades involving balloon flights, midnight yacht trips, bruising massages and drunken dancing, while at home best man Ash (Giovanni Spano, hugely entertaining) endeavours to repair the damage and reunite the couple.

But does Ella want Nathan back, or has her head and heart been turned by sympathetic tour guide Nadeem (Kade Ferraiolo)?

Love (lost, won, unrequited) is at the core of many of SAW’s lyrics, and Tom Rogers has taken this idea and run with it in his set design. Think explosion in a love heart factory.

It’s a pastel-shaded confection against which the cast – crisply choreographed by Strictly’s Jason Gilkison - deliver punchy performances of classic Stock Aitken Waterman tracks including Mel and Kim’s Respectable, Sinitta’s Toy Boy, and a number of Bananarama bangers along with a liberal selection of Jason and Kylie hits.

Sumner channels her inner pop diva in a performance of Venus, while Kayla Carter (bridesmaid Bonnie) brings powerful vocals to Sonia’s You’ll Never Stop me Loving You.

Above: Giovanni Spano as Ash and Kayla Carter as Bonnie. Photo by Marc Brenner.

The back-to-back hitlist is a reminder of the SAW production team’s golden touch – but at the same time it also highlights the similarity of sound created through their (winning) musical formula.

Meanwhile SAW’s brightest star, pop princess Kylie, pops up several times as a glamorous cheerleading ‘magic mirror’ who dispenses pep talks and spouts Shakespeare as Ella wavers over what she should do.

Coincidently (and this is an absolutely true story), many years ago I stood next to Kylie at the mirror in the RSC ladies’ loos in Stratford – but failed to notice her! Imagine, if only we’d locked eyes, she may have also told me I was ‘fabulous’ too.

Luckily, Ella DOES see magic mirror Minogue, who attempts to bring clarity to the thoughts of the confused bride.

Around her the cast deliver cheery, committed performances, embracing the general silliness and in the process helping to gloss over the series of random sub-plots (one with hints of Dirty Dancing) and undeveloped backstories which seem to pop up from nowhere.

They also coped well with a hiatus on opening night, presumably something technical – we weren’t told what – which led to the curtain dropping for a few minutes in the second half.

Bright, breezy, fundamentally undemanding but enjoyably entertaining, I Should Be So Lucky is essentially a Stock Aitken Waterman hit made corporeal.


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