I Should Be So Lucky—The Stock Aitken Waterman Musical
Book by Debbie Isitt, music and lyrics by Stock, Aitken and Waterman
Ambassador Theatre Group Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions, Robin Deller for Imagine Cruising & Aleri Entertainment, and George Ward for Groove International
Opera House, Manchester
Long before the term came into common usage songwriting and record production, trio Stock Aitken Waterman were populist in appealing to people who wanted a catchy uplifting beat to distract from daily pressures. Their Eurobeat style—relentlessly up-tempo disco and electronic dance tunes with extensive use of synthesisers and drum machines—attracted a massive audience regardless of the absence of melody and the lyrics being pretty much meaningless. The use of similar song structures led to the trio being referred to, not entirely flatteringly, as the "hit factory’’—an assembly line producing identical sounding hits.
Debbie Isitt, writer and director of I Should Be So Lucky, copies the approach taken by SAW. The pace of the show is so rapid, it resembles one great big medley of songs, and the plot is stuffed to bursting with events and characters.
The need to allow space for songs usually necessitates musicals having a simple plot, but the storyline of I Should Be So Lucky is so congested as to be hard to summarise.
Nathan (Billy Roberts), learning of a bizarre rumour about his bride-to-be Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner), does not confront her about the gossip but jilts her at the altar. Heartbroken, Ella is persuaded by her family and friends to go ahead with the honeymoon and take them with her for company, like you do. Realising his mistake, Nathan, along with his best man, follows to make amends. But events move quickly, an encounter with a rival from school prompts an embarrassed Ella to claim she is married to hotel employee Nadeem (Matthew Croke), who naturally finds her attractive and becomes a rival for Nathan. Throw in a sister with a gambling problem, a grandma with a vajazzle (the humour in the show is not sophisticated) and a conman and things get really complicated.
Venues in Manchester may be rivalling the Glasgow Empire for being rowdy. A performance of The Bodyguard at sister theatre The Palace was terminated early due to disruptive audience behaviour, and I Should Be So Lucky has already seen a similar interruption. This may account for the odd pre-show announcement asking patrons to not only refrain from recording and photographing the show but also to abstain from consuming alcohol. This does not, however, impede the party mood in the theatre.
Writer-director Isitt does not credit the audience with a long attention span. Within moments of the curtain rising, the title song is performed and goddess Kylie Minogue makes a digital appearance. Characters appear, vanish and reappear at rapid speed depending on plot contrivances, making it very hard to take the storyline seriously. Tying up so many loose ends pushes the show past the obvious emotional conclusion of the lovers reuniting.
Isitt finds strength in apparent weakness with the pedestrian song lyrics being recycled as sung dialogue. The effect is, however, that most of the songs are performed only partially rather than in full. Ella is supposed to be a frustrated pop star, so Lucie-Mae Sumner’s rendition of "Venus" ought to be a pivotal moment in the show confirming Ella’s vocal abilities and giving her greater confidence. Actually, she barely gets to sing more than a few lines and the song is over.
This has the effect of emphasising the ensemble nature of the show. It really comes to life in the celebratory, party style numbers, like "Respectable", which the full cast get to belt out. I Should Be So Lucky is heavily dependent upon a committed and versatile cast capable, at the drop of a hat or twist of the plot, of performing pitch-perfect songs. Isitt’s approach is when in doubt to batter the audience into submission with speed and volume, and the cast carry this off with style transforming song medleys into awesome juggernauts.
I Should Be So Lucky is not a show that takes itself seriously. Stock Aitken Waterman are associated with the 1980s, a decade not known for restraint or good taste. Accordingly, the costumes by Tom Rogers are migraine-inducingly garish, and his set, as is remarked in the show, looks like it was designed by Barbara Cartland.
SAW are divisive figures and I Should Be So Lucky is unlikely to appeal to audiences who are not already fans of the trio. For those who are fans, however, it serves as a nostalgic treat and offers an introduction to a relentlessly hardworking and startlingly talented cast.
Reviewer: David Cunningham