Thursday, 27 June 2019

REVIEW: Little Miss Sunshine at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Little Miss Sunshine is brought to us by the book writer of “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into The Woods” and the composer and lyricist of “Falsettos” – both of which are due to have massive box office success when they return to London in the next 12 months. This Tony Award winning team of James Lapine and William Finn bring us ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ a “new musical comedy” as it embarks on a UK Tour. Sadly, this production doesn’t hold a candle to any of their previous work.

“The Hoover family has more than a few troubles, but young Olive has her heart set on winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. When an invitation to compete comes out of the blue, the Hoovers must pile in to their rickety yellow camper van. Can it survive the 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California – and more importantly, can they? This uplifting, modern classic celebrates the quirks of every family, the potholes in every road, and the power of overcoming our differences.”

The 2006 Academy Award winning film “Little Miss Sunshine” is a knock-out. It’s heart-breaking, yet hilarious and life affirming all at once. It’s a masterclass of film-making and one of my absolute favourites. The stage adaptation I saw was none of these things – just layer upon layer of disappointment. Somehow, this production manages to fall flat on all counts. The music is instantly forgettable with no catchy tunes whatsoever (as much as I was hoping for one), the dialogue is clunky and does not for one moment lend itself to any form of authentic family conversation whatsoever – it’s all overly stylised and unnatural. The choreography left me wanting: it was a poor use of the space with no major set changes, just some bright white side-of-stage lighting and coloured spotlights to change things up every 10 minutes or so, accompanied by lots of running round in circles and an excessively used smoke machine.

One of the most iconic visuals from the film of Little Miss Sunshine is the Yellow Volkswagen Campervan which the family journey from Albuquerque to California in. This production chooses to use a wooden board on small wheels with a VW logo on the front and 2 torch lights, followed by the routine stacking of chairs on and off the board as it relentlessly spins and rotates around the stage. It’s an interesting interpretation but ultimately looks cheap. There’s no steering wheel, no gear-stick and limited use of “bouncing” or sound effects to represent the movement of the van – for all we knew, they could have been static in a car park for 90 minutes… 

Kudos to the cast who do their best with what they’ve been handed but sadly, no amount of talent can redeem this piece. Playing Matriarch ‘Sheryl’ is Lucy O’Byrne who I know is a star after having recently seen her play Eva Peron in Evita. She is only given a few moments to shine and even then, her wings are clipped before she could truly soar. I can only assume the other performers feel as limited in what this show allows them to do. Paul Keating plays an excellent ‘Uncle Frank’ on his journey to saner mental health following a recent suicide attempt. His mannerisms grew camper through the show as he embraced his true self, inspired by his bespectacled neice, ‘Olive’ played brilliantly by Lily Mae Denman who no doubt has a great career ahead of her – she took to the spotlight like a duck to water and stole scenes all too easily.

Act 2 was significantly better than the first, but still lacked across the board. It
needed bags more energy but unfortunately, the auditorium at the New Victoria Theatre was less than 20% full – and the atmosphere suffered for it.

I’m afraid the only time I laughed out loud during this production was in disbelief. So much about this show does not land and while the story is heart-warming… what good is a musical if the music is no good?

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★ 

Seat: Stalls G8 | Price of Ticket: £28.90
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