Little Miss Sunshine. Book by James Lapine, Music & Lyrics by William Finn. The Arcola, Ashwin Street, London E8.. 3*** William Russell

Book by James Lapine Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Based on the film written by Michael Arndt.
The Arcola, 24Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL to 11 May 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646

@Reviews Gate
The road from Albuquerque

This quirky little show is based on the hugely popular 2006 film about the dysfunctional Albuquerque family who take to the road in their clapped out Camper van to take their small daughter to California to take part in one of those creepy little girl beauty contests so beloved of a certain class of American society. The family consists of loser dad Richard – he has no job and his self help book about surviving is not going to be published; down trodden and harried mom Sheryl; their teenage son Dwayne, who wants to fly jet planes, reads Nietzsche, hates everyone and has given up speaking; their cute as a button daughter Olive who wants to be a beauty queen; Frank, mom’s academic suicidal gay brother who has lost his lover to another; and Richard’s dad, who has been kicked out of his retirement home for bad behaviour. In other words, just your plain every day American family enjoying the dream as best they can.
Funny, sentimental and all about coping with what fate brings, it proved a smash hit at Sundance, won Alan Arkin a best supporting actor Oscar for playing granddad, the best original screenplay Oscar and made lots of money. It has fans who adore it still and who may well keep this musical afloat. The problem is that although it retains the essential features of the film it somehow reduces it to little more than a broadly overacted TV sitcom with music, and not particularly memorable music at that. Things are saved by some decent performances – everyone can sing – and if stage children as to your taste there are three Olives to chose from and nine “mean girls”, three appearing each night. Stage children usually curdle the blood with cuteness, but it has to be said that on press night tiny Sophie Hartley-Booth managed to avoid succumbing to the Bonnie Langfords as so many do. Ms Langford, one of the most stomach churning child stars of recent years, did grow up rather well it has to be said. Maybe the same will be true for the energetic Ms Hartley-Booth. The “mean girls” are the moppets who tease Olive at school and the other beauty contest contestants.
Mehmet Ergen has directed it briskly, there is a very natty camper van constructed out of a base with chairs popped on top, and a good band up in the balcony playing the score for all it is worth and more. William Finn’s lyrics are amusing but his score is one of those in one ear and out the other affairs. It does not offend, sounds pleasant and serves its purpose but nobody will be humming it afterwards. Gabriel Vick manages to make Richard likeable which, given that he is a prat of the first order and pig headed to boot, is no mean feat while Laura Pitt-Pulford is a delight as Sheryl although much too glamorous. Toni Colette in the movie showed her years and the draining effect of living with a loser like Frank. Gary Wilmot is spirited as the dreadful old granddad – he dies from a heroin overdose during the journey – who has been coaching Olive in what to do at the beauty contest, and Paul Keating is amusing as gay loser Frank along for the ride. The biggest laughs, however, go to Imelda Warren-Green who has fun as two ghastly women encountered along the way. Subtlety is not her style, but there is no getting away from the fact she hit the mark perfectly as both the falsely sympathetic lady in the hospital insisting on the forms that had to be filled after Grandpa has died and the talentless Miss California, star attraction at the beauty contest.
Little Miss Sunshine works well enough, but one doesn’t fall in love with the occupants of the chitty, chitty bang, bang camper van as one did with those in the film. James Lapine’s book for the musical really only catalogues the incidents into a theatrical form without creating anything fresh. This is not, I suspect, the next Matilda but as it is suitable for 12+ – Olive knows a thing or two as most kids do now – it should keep the Arcola filled. The problem is it lurches from one tone to another, some is comic, the suicidal brother is actually not funny although it is treated as if it were, the parents fight but again marital disharmony is played as if were comic. Something is out of kilter, but it still passes the time pleasantly.
Frank: Paul Keating.
Dwayne: Sev Keoshgerian.
Sheryl: Laura Pitt-Pulford.
Grandpa: Gary Wilmot.
Richard: Gabriel Vick.
Olive: Lily Mae Denman, Evie Gibson, Sophie Hartley- Booth.
Larry/Buddy: Ian Carlyle.
Joshua Rose/ Kirby: Matthew McDonald.
Linda/Miss California: Imelda Warren-Green.
Mean Girls: Yvie Bent, Ava Hurley, Saffia Lavia, Ava Masters, Josselyn Ospina Escobar, Summer Pelley, Chloe Raphael, Elodie Salon, Ellicia Simonwood.

Director: Mehmet Ergen.
Choreographer: Anthony Whiteman.
Designer: David Woodhead.
Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson.
Sound Designer: Olly Street.
Musical Director: Arlene McNaught.
Costume Supervisor: Justin Allin.
Production photographs: Manuel Harlan.

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