Wednesday, July 28

Little Miss Sunshine

- June 12, 2019

Staged versions of films can so often disappoint, especially those larded with irrelevant songs ram-raided into proceedings to little or no effect. But not here! Little Miss Sunshine was a cult road movie about a truly dis-functional family, a clutch of warring, unhappy souls who set off cross country in a wreck of a VW camper to satisfy the dream of the youngest member Olive, the least likely beauty pageant contestant. The easy option would be to weave period hits around the story but this not the route taken by James Lapine and William Finn who have scripted and scored a truly original work, not one limited by pastiche and by no means easy, the entire cast are called to task with a series of songs that test their skills as both actor and singer. It’s a task that they all embrace and succeed in.

The real joy though is that this is musical theatre of the very best kind, where the songs and lyrics have real purpose and propel the narrative with clarity, proper story telling theatre, and there are some real gems for each and every member of the cast. Mark Moraghan, best known for TV work maybe, has a fine voice and plays the part of wayward grandpa with energy and style. Paul Keating’s uncle Frank is a fragile confection of academic and camp, tragic yet joyous. Gabriel Vick’s father figure is driven in his deluded hopes, conflicted, loving and desperate. Sophie Hartley-Booth is Olive, an energetic bundle of delight as the tiny Olive Hoover, hell bent on becoming Little Miss Sunshine but also wonderfully aware of life’s constraints and disappointments, and she works the stage like a seasoned pro, dealing with the complex score and fine harmonies with aplomb.

In fact it needs to be said that from start to finish the fine band and talented cast deliver every music moment with precision and style. Which leads me to Lucy O’Byrne’s fine performance as Sheryl Hoover, mother and in many ways martyr, dealing with parenthood that came too soon and ended any potential. O’Byrne has the voice of an angel, all well and good, but what she does is use that voice to deliver a fine dramatic rendering of a song. It’s a skill that too many fail to possess.

A word too for some fun comic cameos and in particular Imelda Warren-Green who gives life to a fine comedy character as Linda the bereavement councillor, a very cleverly drawn gem. And in turn this leads to one of the very best things about this great new show and that is the believability of all of the characters. Comic yes, of course, but truly recognisable – and that is what lifts this above the ordinary. How refreshing to see a new work that is in fact new, it deserves to achieve more than just the cult status of the movie.

Theatre Royal Brighton

11 June

Andrew Kay


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