I Should Be So Lucky: at Leeds Grand Theatre Until 30 December

Having premiered at Manchester Opera House, the musical I Should Be So Lucky has now headed to Leeds Grand Theatre for a Christmas season before touring the country.

It is refreshing to see a new musical launching in our two great northern theatrical cities. It has long been my belief that theatregoers would do better to plan trips to Manchester and Leeds rather than head to the West End, if they want to see quality theatre at affordable prices.

There was no doubt that many of the audience were Stock Aitken Waterman fans. Yet they were not uncritical. As I queued for the toilets during the interval, there was much discussion of what parts worked well and what not so well. What seemed agreed was that the songs were performed well, the choreography was well designed and that the story had gained momentum through the first half.

Kayla Carter as Bonnie, Jessica Daley as Britney, Lucie-Mae Sumner as Ella, Scott Page as Michael and Melissa Jacques as Shelley with members of the Company

The initial storyline of a bride left at the altar is not strong, but it does provide a jumping-off point for a beach-based bonanza of love songs. When the party – there is very much a party atmosphere throughout the production – first transfers to Turkey, some of the jokes had an end of the pier feel. However, this slips away to enable a diverse cast to attempt to show a range of human interactions. The comedy skit of the groom and best-man in disguise as entertainers at a Turkish nightclub was a reminder that it is panto season.

Lucie-Mae-Sumner-Kylie-Minogue-and-Company. Photograph by Marc Brenner

Some critics have been sceptical about the use of Kylie Minogue, speaking on video, addressing the heroine through a mirror. The transformation of Kylie from pop Princess to empowered global superstar is one that has inspired many women. For Kylie to be the bride’s alter ego seems appropriate. Clearly, Kylie could not tour with the production but her presence on stage, even in electronic format, added depth.

Kylie urges Ella, played by Lucie-Mae Sumner, to find her inner diva. The word diva is one of those words that is often used to disparage women, to suggest they are difficult or emotional. Here, it is owned. The diva becomes the woman who knows her own mind and puts her own needs first. Ella goes on a journey to show the world her inner strength. Yes, she does end up with a man but this is a musical full of live songs.

Dominic Andersen as Revel Harrington III and Anna Unwin as Olivia

The choreography, by Jason Gilkison, was well thought out and varied. He clearly demonstrates how musicals are no longer about a few lead dancers supported by a chorus line. Every performer is allowed to shine and there are multiple interactions, occasionally two groups performing different routines on stage at the same time

Choreographers from the early Stock Aitken and Waterman years would not recognise the dance troupe assembled here. Thankfully you no longer must be tall and slim to be a dancer. The variety of ages, body shapes and ethnicities on stage sent a clear message that dance is for everyone.

I am a little disappointed that this is the Grand’s Christmas production as it has little to offer children. It is bright and attractive, but the only jeopardy is around affairs of the heart, boring according to most primary school pupils! I had hoped that writer and director Debbie Isitt might have considered this, given her involvement with the Nativity franchise. However, I can understand that she was limited by the nature of the songs, which whilst they seem obvious musical material do lack a certain variety in terms of content, and it is a great privilege to have a production run in the lead up to Christmas.

The set and costume design, by Tom Rogers, is vibrant and heartfelt. You might want to seek out the many ways that hearts feature in the design, the ultimate addition being a large driftwood heart on the beach. There are minimal set changes. Furniture is quickly pushed or lowered onto the stage and swiftly departs. Changes in mood and location are mainly indicated by the addition of lights and video to the heart-shaped arches that sweep over the actors. We all felt a bit warmer watching waves lap the sand or the sun setting over the beach.

Clockwise from bottom left: Jemma Churchill as Nana Ivy, Matthew Croke, Lucie-Mae Sumner and Jamie Chapman as Spencer

Standout characterisation came from Jamie Chapman as Spencer. His resort manager offered compassion and kept the chaos in check, but he also had his own wild moment. Another mature perspective came from Nana Ivy, played by Jemma Churchill, although she was often a party instigator. When she urges Ella to go on honeymoon without the wedding by saying, ‘When life gives you lemons you make nana lemonade,’ you just know there would be a good shot of gin or vodka in that lemonade.

The plot slows a bit during the second act to enable all the characters to head for a destiny, but you know you’re being led towards an energetic and joyful end. There has been a lot in the press recently about audiences joining in with familiar songs. Everyone here was impeccably behaved, leaving the singing to the professionals, but when encouraged to join in everyone did so immediately. The finale, which saw a medley of songs performed by the whole cast, had the whole audience on their feet, clapping along with the music.

Maybe on a damp, dull winter day, a slice of sun and fun is exactly what Leeds needed. There was no question that most of the audience left feeling lighter, and lucky that they had seen this performance. No doubt, like me, they will have Stock Aitken Waterman lyrics buzzing round their heads for days to come.

Performances until 30 December
Leeds Grand Theatre

Main image: Billy Roberts as Nathan and Lucie-Mae Sumner as Ella. Photograph by Marc Brenner.

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