Review: Sparkling queens and disco dreams

The ultimate jukebox musical plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until Sunday 9 March.

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English songwriting and production trio Stock Aitken Waterman (stylised as SAW) became particularly prominent in the 80s and 90s, responsible for hits including Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, Bananarama’s Venus, Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round, Kylie Minogue’s Better the Devil You Know and, of course, the eponymous I Should Be So Lucky. Together with Debbie Isitt (Nativity!, The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband) they present I Should Be So Lucky – a jukebox musical featuring ‘no less than 10 Number 1 singles’ (soluckymusical.com).

I admit to not feeling like the target audience for this show. Out of the 20-plus chart-toppers included from the Stock Aitken Waterman repertoire, I knew only five. On the other hand, I would consider myself a bit of a Debbie Isitt fan – the Nativity! movies are festive staples in my house. There is something authentically and relatably 2000s-England in her storytelling, which warms the cockles and leaves you in no doubt that home truly is where the heart is.

The curtain rises on Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner) as she embarks on a solo honeymoon (family and best friends in tow) after fiancée Nathan (Billy Roberts) leaves her jilted at the altar. Sumner’s performance instantly glitters with a soaring vocal and characteristic sass which carry her throughout. Mentions should go to Olivia (Ella’s old school mate) played and sung impressively by Anna Unwin; and to the ensemble, who blasted the stage with energy and vibrancy.

I Should Be So Lucky - Ella, her family and friends.I Should Be So Lucky - Ella, her family and friends.
I Should Be So Lucky - Ella, her family and friends.

It would be very difficult, however, to outshine the technicolour energy of Scott Paige as Ella’s best friend Michael, or the unwavering stage presence of Jamie Chapman as hotel concierge Spencer. My enjoyment of the stereotypical, overtly-camp, gays-and-girls-together dynamic has waned over time, but what this show may lack in subtlety it makes up for in ‘screen time’. I watched with delight as Michael (Paige) and hotel masseur Hassan (Ralph Bogard) – a fuller-figured, middle-aged, gay couple – belted their main character moment. LGBTQ*, age and body-diversity representation abounds in this musical, lending a celebratory je ne sais quois to the ensemble and the choreography.

The show is beautifully designed by Tom Rogers, a sumptuous feast of sparkling colour and curving lines. On more than one occasion I found myself coveting costumes and simply revelling in the Valentine-tinted glow of it all. For such a minimalist approach to set, there were several moments of genuine delight (and heartbreak – spoilers!) owing to the set alone.

I must admit that, for me, the story never really felt grounded. Romances died and sprung up from nowhere. At moments, it felt like a pantomime that couldn’t decide if it was meant to be family-friendly or not (although, decidedly not!) and plot lines which could have been woven throughout surfaced as too-little-too-late in the penultimate scenes, u-turning hurriedly and without explanation to achieve a happy-ever-after finale. All of the songs – whether you know them or not – are toe-tappers, but at times the sound levels let the singers down and dialogue or lyrics were missed.

My own experience did not seem to be reflected in the experience of those around me, however: The audience sang, waved and clapped along throughout (and especially at the finale, which merited a full house standing ovation). So perhaps there is something in the music, the nostalgia, or the storytelling which just missed me. I do think that it appears to be of greater appeal to those who are already familiar with the music/era.

All in all, I Should Be So Lucky is a glitzy, humorous, and light-hearted night out. Grab your besties and prepare for a night of giggles, glamour, and perhaps even an appearance from the Australian queen of pop herself! Tickets are available from ATG Tickets now.