New Wolsey spreads some musical sparkle with Little Miss Sunshine
PUBLISHED: 11:23 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:41 22 May 2019
Little Miss Sunshine, by James Lapine and William Finn, New Wolsey Theatre, until May 25.
Basing a new musical on a well-loved independent movie is a risky business - after all the qualities that made the original so attractive, the originality of its characters and the quirkiness of its storytelling, means that it is very hard to replicate that feel in another format.
Happily, this faithful remoulding of the film into a literate, fantastically well-sung small-scale musical works like a charm. As with the original, the adult cast create a bizarre collection of off-centre eccentrics and slightly damaged family members, who we all grow to love, but the show stands or falls on the casting of seven year old Olive, the young daughter who is entered into the Little Miss Sunshine contest and is coached by her loving, if rather disreputable grandfather.
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This current show has a future star in the making with Sophie Hartley Booth as the young Olive (although there will be other young actors playing the role during the run) who more than matches her richly drawn family: the loving and practical mother Sheryl (Lucy O'Byrne), the would-be self-help author father Richard (Gabriel Vick), the suicide survivor Frank (Paul Keating), the life-loving grandpa (Mark Moraghan) and her largely silent, would-be test pilot brother Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian).
The book by Stephen Sondheim collaborator James Lapine does a good job of condensing the film's story into a tight two hours - without sacrificing the quirkiness and keeping the highlights. Sadly, William Finn's nicely crafted songs, which are beautifully sung and arranged, seem lovely in the moment but don't linger long in the memory (you certainly can't remember them as you leave the theatre) and strangely leave you unmoved in several emotional scenes.
Nevertheless the book and the performances are enough to recapture the appeal of the film. Sophie Hartley Booth as Olive steals every scene she is in while Lucy O'Byrne is the living heart of the family and Mark Moraghan relishes every moment he is on stage as the dodgy granddad.
Mehmat Ergen directs with pace and economy and makes good use of the revolve and a cleverly compact VW camper van to take us on an atmospheric road trip quite like no other.