It's Kylie, the Musical (with Elvis Costello waiting in the wings)

'I Should Be So Lucky' is the first of a new wave of star-inspired shows to flood the West End. Why? 'They're desperate,' says one critic

James Morrison
Sunday 16 December 2001 01:00
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You've heard the singles, you've seen the videos, and you can't get her last number one song out of your head. Now, after a year that has seen her come close to challenging Madonna for the title Queen of Pop, Kylie Minogue has been awarded the ultimate showbiz honour: her own musical.

I Should Be So Lucky will use the former Neighbours actress's entire chart back-catalogue to tell the heart-rending story of a young gay man's quest for love. The show, named after her first British hit, will start out in her native Australia, before transferring to the UK stage later next year.

It is the brainchild of writer and director David Knox, who has described it as a "tribute to Kylie's 15-year recording career". He is currently re-working Minogue's oeuvre in the hope of readying it for a three-week tour Down Under early in the New Year.

Minogue is not the only pop star who is poised to enjoy a new lease of life in the West End. At a time when London theatres are still struggling to recover from the impact of the foot and mouth outbreak and the events of 11 September, producers are pinning their hopes on nostalgic "sing-along" shows to fill up half-empty houses.

Taking his cue from the Pet Shop Boys, whose debut stage foray, Closer to Heaven, recently ended its West End run, fellow 1980s survivor Boy George will soon raise the curtain on Taboo, his musical chronicle of the rise and fall of the New Romantic movement. Singer Elvis Costello, whose earlier excursions outside the realms of pop recording have included a well-received collaboration with classical group The Brodsky Quartet, is reportedly working with acclaimed American playwright Neil LaBute on a semi-autobiographical stage project.

Meanwhile, next May will see the opening of a big budget musical collaboration between Ben Elton and the surviving members of Queen. We Will Rock You, whose soundtrack is composed of a run-through of the band's greatest hits, will paint a dystopian vision of life on a future Earth where cultural homogenisation has been taken to its logical conclusion – with music literally being generated by computers.

Other acts currently planning West End productions include chart-topping boy band Westlife, who are working on a show focusing on their rise to fame, and songwriting legend Neil Diamond, whose autobiographical musical Sweet Caroline is due to arrive sometime next year.

As with many of her fellow pop stars, Minogue's dalliance with the stage musical is likely to reveal a somewhat insular perspective. While I Should be So Lucky is nominally about a lovelorn man, its producers concede that its narrative may bear more than a passing resemblance to the life story of the singer herself.

Comparing it to another disco-driven show that is currently playing to packed houses in London's theatreland, its director, Mr Knox, admitted last week: "In the same way Mamma Mia! is based on Abba, this is based on Kylie."

John McKie, former editor of music magazines Smash Hits and Q, believes that the new wave of shows smacks of desperation and lack of imagination on the part of theatre producers. "I think people are just lazy," he said. "With movies, you see studios resorting to adapting successful TV shows like Charlie's Angels, and with these musicals producers are just looking to exploit loyal pop fans.

"I think it's great if songwriters like Elvis Costello and Neil Diamond are writing original musicals, but just recycling someone's old hits is an awful idea."

Commenting on the nature of some of the acts involved, he added: "The theatre needs more West End shows – not Westlife shows. All the dancing in that show will involve is five blokes in pullovers sitting on stools."

News of the glut of new pop productions heading for the West End comes as figures compiled by the Society of London Theatres reveal that more than 40 per cent of the capital's stage space is currently occupied by musicals. It follows last week's opening of South Pacific, the latest song-laden offering from the National Theatre which is still reeling from the success of its sell-out staging of My Fair Lady, starring Martine McCutcheon.

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