Selladoor Productions and Arcola Theatre
Book James Lapine, music and lyrics William Finn
Based on the film script by Michael Arndt
Lowry Quays, 28 May 2019 - 1 June 2019; 2hr 10min.
Touring the UK until October.
It was an off-beat film and it’s an off-beat musical, a show that concentrates on people and their quirks rather than attempting to stun audiences with spectacle and walls of sound.
The film, from more than a decade ago now, is basically a road movie about the Hoovers, a distinctly dysfunctional American family, and the musical sticks pretty close to it...
Seven-year-old Olive has set her heart on winning the Little Miss Sunshine child beauty pageant and, unexpectedly, gets an invite to take part, which means the Hoovers must squeeze into their ancient yellow VW camper van and make the 800-mile trip from Albuquerque to California, without a working clutch.
Will the vehicle manage to get there without blowing a gasket? Will the Hoovers survive the potholes in the road and the yawning chasms in their relationships?
Dad (Gabriel Vick) is an unsuccessful self-help guru. His wife (Lucy O’Byrne) is trying to hold the family together. Their son (Sev Keoshgerian) is teenage awkward and to add to the fun there’s the wife’s brother (Paul Keating), a suicidal Proust scholar, plus an outrageous, dissolute grandfather (Mark Moraghan).
But the show’s star is the ultra-determined Olive (shared by Evie Gibson, Sophie Hartley Booth and Lily Mae Denman). All are flawed, apart from Olive, who is just lovely and thankfully always at the centre of things as they all face the setbacks life has thrown at them and struggle on.
The show unashamedly wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a warm and likeable tale that has a bit of a go at the excesses of American capitalism - and at the way children dressing up as adults and parading about has such a hold on a certain section of society.
But turning it into a musical hasn’t added anything to the original and the score isn’t by any means memorable - you certainly don’t race for the car park humming the choruses. It’s the usual sub-Sondheim stuff, too shrill and uninvolving.
The production is more or less straight from the West End: apart from Moraghan and O’Byrne the principal cast is very similar and they know what they’re doing. A chorus of other child performers seems to have been left behind though: now the climactic beauty pageant has Olive pitched against a parade of adults dressed as kids, making an already strange concept very strange indeed.