Kylie. Bananarama. Donna Summer. Rick Astley. It’s a throwback of mammoth proportions, hit after hit, a dance party here and a dance party there. That’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman, the song writing record producing machine that brought us such hits, and now combined with a brand-new tale from writer/director Debbie Isitt (the brains behind Christmas hit Nativity and its sequels, admit it you love them all), there’s a new jukebox musical in town, and it’s one that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
The wedding is off, but the honeymoon is on! That is what kicks off the action here with new musical ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, named after that famous Kylie hit, and just one of the many ear worms used here. Bride Ella (Lucie-Mae Sumner) is jilted at the alter but her friends and family are not about to let an all-expenses paid honeymoon go to waste. In lover’s paradise, there is plenty to be enjoyed, and handsome tour guide Nadeem (Matthew Croke) is always there to help. But when groom Nathan (Billy Roberts) decides he’s made a terrible mistake and sets his sights on winning Ella back, your classic will they won’t they fun and games turns into a party hit fuelled rollercoaster of ups and downs, with laughs a plenty. Throw in a sister with her own issues, a mother and a grandmother seeking to broaden their horizons, the bridesmaid and the best man trying their best to help and an over eager to please hotel manager, and basically, you’ve got a smash hit. Oh, and not to mention Ella’s Pop princess conscience (or guardian angel, you can decide on that), who appears Disney style in a mirror.
Sumner’s Ella is a fun character, full of life and dreams and she’s a character you can’t help but love. We follow her story, from her very lowest through this voyage of discovery as she tries to decide what she wants, or who she wants, depending on which way you look at it. With impressive vocals and a cheeky smile, Sumner’s chemistry with both Croke’s Nadeem and Roberts’ Nathan is believable and entertaining. Nathan is your classic rom com fool of a boyfriend, the ‘yeah he’s an idiot but a lovable one’ kind of thing. His heart is in the right place, and despite the questionable decisions that he makes, Billy Roberts’ creates a likable character.
Matthew Croke’s tour guide Nadeem is clearly a favourite with the audience, kind hearted and sweet but again like Nathan, doesn’t always make the best decisions. But that’s a rom-com isn’t it? I mean look at the likes of Bridget Jones Diary for example. The guys may not be the smartest or best behaved, and it always comes down to the women to make the right choice for her. Elliot Broadfoot’s Michael, Kayla Carter’s Bonnie, Jamie Chapman’s Spencer and Giovanni Spano’s Ash each have their own stories, and whilst it would be nice for these stories to be expanded, we still get a delicious taste of them. I must give specific praise to Spano’s performance as best man Ash, who has the audience in stitches from start to end with a natural class clown energy. And also congratulations to Aiden Nightingale, who on the night I attended made his debut as Revel Harrington III.
There are a number of characters in this show that make questionable decisions, and I find myself reminded of something said back when the movie adaptation of ‘Mamma Mia’ came out, something along the lines of ‘it takes a great performer to make a character loveable, to make the audience love them instead of saying ‘oh my god what are you doing? How can you be so stupid?’ referring to Sophie and how she goes behind her mother’s back to invite her three possible fathers to the wedding. That’s a decision that could cause carnage, ruin relationships even, but due to the performance of Amanda Seyfried in the role (and of course anyone who has played the role of Sophie on stage), we love the character instead of hating her. With ‘I should be so lucky’ you could easily apply this sort of ‘a performer makes us love the character’ theory not only to the character of Nathan, but also to Britney (played marvellously by the naturally funny Jessica Daley), and Shelley (played with powerhouse vocals by Melissa Jacques) and even Sumner’s Ella. The characters are flawed, greatly at times, but believable and realistic, and yet again you find yourselves loving them and hoping that their issues are resolved in time for the all singing all dancing party finale, and that is thanks to the performances of this talented cast.
This isn’t writer Debbie Isitt’s first venture into the world of weddings, if you look back to her 2006 movie ‘Confetti’ (Great film, by the way), in which three couples compete for the title of most original wedding in Confetti magazine in a mockumentary style. Isitt clearly knows how to find the comedy in the stress of a wedding, and any issues that surround the event, injecting fun into the chaos whilst playing with stereotypical ideas; the runaway groom, the always the bridesmaid never the bride, the girl power bridal party and the ones who simply want to see a happy ending and to an extent, live vicariously through those getting a happy ending.
Jukebox musicals are hardly new, and for many years they have been crowd pleasers. With songs such as ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, ‘Together Forever’, ‘Better the Devil you Know’, ‘Respectable’, and ‘Step Back In Time’ used here to name but a few, you are guaranteed to know at least some of them and leave the theatre humming a medley. That being said, there’s a touch of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ here with so many songs being used that you don’t actually get to hear that many of them in their entirety. Away from the music, you could call the story itself the love child of ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘&Juliet’, the chaos surrounding a family filled wedding combined with ‘girl power, do I really need a man to be happy, finding myself’ kind of thing.
Okay, so there are a few plot lines that aren’t really fully fleshed out or tidied up, but the main story and true heart of the show, which is Ella’s story, and its outcome are clear and well developed, and we must praise that. It’s fun, it’s silly, it gets everyone dancing at the end, and for a cheerful colourful jukebox musical, there’s not really much else that you need. It’s smile inducing, full of the music that people know and love, and crammed with impressive performances, so if you want an entertaining night out, then look no further.