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No stranger to crafting hits for stage and screen, Birmingham-born BAFTA and Emmy award-winning writer & director Debbie Isitt - best known for the Nativity! films - is bringing the iconic songbook of Stock Aitken Waterman to life in new musical I Should Be So Lucky, which comes to Birmingham theatre The Alexandra in April. We recently caught up with Debbie to chat about the brand-new production, its generation-defining soundtrack, and the experience of working with the legendary Kylie Minogue...  

What was the inspiration behind the musical, Debbie?
The songs! Stock Aitken Waterman songs were the soundtrack to my youth, and being asked to create a musical featuring all the hits was a very exciting proposition. The songs are about love, and that was my starting point for the story and the show! The songs spoke to me, the lyrics and the melodies, and I wanted to create a show about love in all its forms - romantic love, thwarted love, love of family, love of self - to create an experience that is emotional and fun and feelgood, just like their music makes me feel.

Without major spoilers, can you tell us the story of I Should Be So Lucky?
The story starts with a wedding that goes wrong. I guess that is a spoiler - sorry! But the bride Ella’s family and her two best friends are not prepared to let her disappear in a puddle of grief and insecurity, so they accompany her on her honeymoon to Turkey to try and help her heal her broken heart. However, on the honeymoon they each have a transformative experience that changes their loves and lives forever. Meanwhile, Ella wrestles with a new love - the local tour guide - just as her old love turns up to try and win her back. With the help of her inner confidence [represented by a filmed contribution from Kylie Minogue], she begins to piece her life and broken heart back together and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

I Should Be So Lucky features endless hits from the Stock Aitken Waterman catalogue, including Never Gonna Give You Up, Especially For You and the title track itself. Why do you think these songs make the perfect soundtrack for a musical?
Because they are absolute bangers! As soon as they start up, you can’t help but feel engaged with the brilliant hooks and catchy choruses. But they also take some of us back to times when we were young and having fun. And the songs are stories too - stories that we can all relate to - about unrequited love, yearning, and heartfelt human emotions. Lots of people know and love the songs, but younger audiences are discovering some of them for the first time, and it’s so fantastic to watch that. Everyone - young or old - is up and dancing at the end.

Do you have a favourite song used within the show?
I love so many of them, but a lesser-known song, If You Were With Me Now, is a stand-out moment. The song is so beautiful and has such a lush arrangement by George Dyer, our music supervisor - matched only by Jason Gilkison’s dream-like choreography - that it really transports me to another world. I also love the massive Sonia hit, Never Stop Me From Loving You, as our amazing Kayla Carter gives a dazzling performance of this beautiful song. And I adore the Kylie mega-hit, Better The Devil You Know, for the sheer euphoria it creates on stage and in the audience! But I genuinely love them all! In fact, I can’t not mention Respectable - it’s a brilliant moment in the show, and the audience absolutely love this song! And, of course, the iconic Never Gonna Give You Up, which has the audience up on its feet every single performance!

Kylie Minogue scored her first UK number one with I Should Be So Lucky, and she’s also got a starring role in this musical. What has it been like to work with her?
Kylie was a real pleasure to work with. Our first meeting was via zoom - Kylie was in Melbourne and I was in London, casting the show. She was so enthusiastic about the musical, having watched the workshop where all the ideas were developed. Of course, she already had a great relationship with Stock Aitken and Waterman, but now it was time to create a story especially for her within the show. A few weeks later, when she was in London, I presented her with her character and storyline and script, and we worked together to hone down the scenes. The concept was Kylie being bride Ella’s reflection in the mirror, playing her inner diva - her inner confidence, if you like. I wanted Kylie to play a version of herself but also to be properly integrated into the story. Kylie later came into rehearsal and worked with the cast - which we were all very excited about - and then we were ready to film her sequences. Each sequence had to be filmed in single takes, with no edits, and had to be timed to perfection to allow interaction and dialogue with the brilliant Lucie-Mae Sumner, who plays Ella. It was a fabulous experience, as Kylie and Lucie worked so well together, and Kylie was so emotionally connected to both the story and the songs. Kylie is a genuine triple threat - a brilliant singer, actor and dancer. More than that, she is an inspirational icon, so we felt very ‘lucky lucky lucky’ to have her play such a big on-screen role in the musical production!

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I’ve been so inspired by the audience reaction. Sitting amongst them and hearing huge belly laughs and gasps of recognition, and sensing their engagement with the story, and hearing them sing along to the songs, and watching them dance on their feet has been truly exhilarating. I want audiences to keep enjoying, keep escaping, keep feeling the utter joy that this musical has to offer. I want them to enjoy feeling the love and warmth that’s created with every performance. I want audiences to leave the show feeling happier and stronger for having seen it, with the songs in their hearts.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to anyone thinking of stepping into the industry?
Whatever it is you have to offer the industry, do it to the best of your ability, with passion and integrity, and keep pushing to serve audiences - keep them in your heart and mind. Theatre is about coming together to experience emotions and share truths. Always be honest, always be emotional, always be true. 

I Should Be So Lucky shows at The Alexandra, Birmingham from Monday 1 to Saturday 6 April.