Theatre Review: 42 BALLOONS – The Lowry, Salford

The cast of 42 BALLOONS. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

With its vibrant direction, inventive staging, and 80s-inspired soundtrack, 42 BALLOONS delivers an uplifting and captivating musical experience.

4 out of 5 stars

Six years in the making, 42 BALLOONS finally makes its world premiere at Salford’s The Lowry this month, with a journey that echoes Larry Walters’ astonishing true story.

Set in 1980s America, 42 BALLOONS follows Larry, a truck driver with a lifelong dream to defy gravity. The musical charts Larry’s life before and after the flight and its impact on those around him, including his partner Carol Van Deusen. Together, they help Larry navigate not only gravity but also FAA airspace regulations to soar 16,000 feet above Los Angeles in a lawn chair lifted by 42 helium-filled weather balloons.

The cast of 42 BALLOONS. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

It might sound like a wild story for a musical, but 42 BALLOONS pulls it off thanks to its ambitious storytelling, catchy soundtrack, and inventive staging. Ellie Coote’s sharp direction maintains high energy throughout, supported by Alexzandra Sarmiento’s choreography and Bruno Poet’s lighting design. Milla Clarke’s innovative concave set design engages the audience’s imagination, featuring a giant weather balloon and creative projections that enhance the experience.

Charlie McCullagh as Larry and Evie Hoskins as Carol both shine as strong leads, showcasing impressive vocals and believable chemistry. Hoskins stands out with her captivating portrayal and delivers a show-stopping number, HELIUM, that lets you see the story through her eyes. Special mention also goes to Gillian Hardie as Carol’s mum, who provides comedy in CAROL’S SOLILOQUY, and Lejaun Sheppard as Ron, who brings fun and energy with his HAMILTON-inspired number.

The cast of 42 BALLOONS. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

But it is Jack Godfrey’s original 80s-inspired score that truly steals the show. Strongly influenced by music icons like Queen, Cyndi Lauper, and Journey, the score brings an authentic retro feel to songs like GIVE IT UP and HAPPILY EVER AFTER and provides a nostalgic yet fresh backdrop to the story.

While the first act sets a high standard, the second act struggles to surpass the drama of the flight scene, suggesting a need for some tightening. The show’s tone also shifts, causing the upbeat score to slow down a notch, which diminishes the momentum established in the first act.

That said, there is lots to love here and 42 BALLOONS ultimately leaves audiences feeling both uplifted and moved. Be sure to book at ticket for this incredible new musical before it takes flight.

42 BALLOONS runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 19 May 2024