Modern musicals often rely on a gimmick to attract the audience which acts as a unique selling point. From the helicopter in Miss Saigon to the crashing chandelier in Phantom, these set pieces have become iconic. Manchester's new musical, Sex Chips and Rock 'n' Roll, based on the TV series of the same name, features a chip van - which makes audience members smile as they get the irony.
In 1960's Manchester, rock band The Ice Cubes are tipped as the next big thing. Bookish Ellie (Emma Williams) and her flighty sister Arden (Elaine Glover) are both captivated by the lads and their music. But once the singles start climbing the charts, the girls both realise that their mother's words, "I want never gets", start to ring true. Ellie is sworn to another man and cannot seem to escape her Northern roots, while Arden tells a white lie to hitch a ride to London as The Ice Cubes start to become really cool.
This may sound incredibly corny but it works wonderfully. Almost every aspect of this lively, funny and poignant musical is superbly realised. Debbie Horsfield's sharp writing has real grit alongside the humour. Likewise, she and Hereward Kaye have crafted some catchy songs which have a pure, original sound minus the ‘worthy’ elements so often associated with musicals.
"Eighteen" is delivered with panache by Tracie Bennett as the girls' mum, and "Is This What's Down For Me" highlights Ellie's struggle and is sung perfectly by Williams. Such a shame, then, that the play almost fizzles out via the finale track "Tread Softly", which, as the title suggests, lacks the impact required to end a musical.
The cast are energetic and in great voice, and they move across the round with real precision. When emotion is called for, Williams, Glover and Bennett each get the tear ducts flowing. As the Ice Cubes, Ben Barnes, Dean Stobbart and Ben Sutherland have the ability to get the crowd going and make people really believe the guys are in a band.
Conor Murphy's superb set features a mini, the aforementioned chip van, and a spinning stage, which transports viewers to the swinging sixties. Jonathan Moore directs the piece with a good eye for what works and each scene has real resonance.
The show reminded me of the sublime Spend Spend Spend and Blood Brothers. Judging by the audience reaction, Sex Chips deserves to keep on rocking for years.