The epitome of dysfunctional, the Hoover family travel 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico in grandpa’s beaten up VW camper van to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, so the youngest member of the clan, the unlikely Olive, can compete. So goes William Finn and James Lapine’s adaptation of Michael Arndt’s double Oscar-winning 2006 movie.
The stage version, unlike the movie has had a bumpy ride to get to this point. Workshopped in 2009, it showed for two months in California in 2011, it was then re-worked and lasted another two months off-Broadway in 2013. With this less than encouraging history it then begs the question why anyone would gamble on taking a musical theatre version of what was always a quirky, niche, indie movie, less happy go lucky and more heart-wrenching and soul-searching, to the UK theatre-going public. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the sparse audience, this gamble hasn’t exactly paid off.
The ultra simplistic staging – a sunshine yellow, paint spattered backdrop with the iconic van reduced to six kitchen chairs on an MDF boxed base, serves up little to interest the eye, save in the last scene at the pageant. The costumes, of course necessitated by the everyday ordinariness of the characters, are the same from start to end, but it’s the musical content that’s utterly unforgivable. Every – single – song, is exactly the same as the others, so drab and relentlessly boring are they, that you are reduced to silently begging when the musical director raises her hand to cue in the musicians, that there’s not another song. William Finn is known as a quirky composer, that these songs are so plodding, so utterly unremarkable and forgettable, is astonishing, especially given how unconventional the source material.
The cast are experienced, but no matter how good they are, they are fighting a tedious script and bland music. Mum Sheryl (Lucy O’Byrne) is given unremittingly dull lines and songs that leave no mark and dad Richard (Gabriel Vick) is extremely hard to warm to. Thankfully Paul Keating as suicidal, Proust scholar Uncle Frank makes his mark as does Mark Moraghan as off-the-wall, coke-sniffing grandpa, but it’s ensemble member Imelda Warren-Green in a double turn as a hospital bereavement liaison and the Latina pageant winner, who shines brightest in the gloom.
I am astonished that any producer thought this would be a winner. It lacks bite, the almost insurmountable troubles of the movie are so perfectly written in its script, are less than perfectly translated here. Yes, the iconic quotes are present as is the storyline, but in this version it is a relentless two-hour, clock-watching slog with the final scenes the only pay-off. Do yourself a favour and watch the movie instead.
Image: Manuel Harlan
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub