Theatre Review: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – A ROAD MUSICAL – The Lowry, Salford

Lily Mae Denman, Sev Koeshgerian, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Paul Keating, Gary Wilmot & Gabriel Vick in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Original London Cast of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

James Lapine and William Finn’s stage adaption of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE may not boast the charm or warmth of the original film but a strong cast performance help pull it through

2.5 out of 5 stars

I’ve never seen the 2006 film LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE but I’m reliably informed that it’s a sad, sweet and strange film that is worth revisiting time and time again. So when James Lapine and William Finn’s musical adaption of the offbeat cult film stopped at Salford’s The Lowry this week, I was intrigued to see what the Tony Award-winners had done with the material.

Based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE tells the story of the dysfunctional Hoover family who set off on a last minute 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California to take their youngest daughter Olive to the titular Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Winning the pageant is all Olive’s ever wanted and the family are gunning to make her dreams come true, no matter the cost.

As the title suggests, the set for this aspirational musical comedy is certainly bright and colourful. For the most part, Designer David Woodhead makes good use of the Quay’s Theatre intimate space, using neon lights and painted road maps on the floor and wall used to reflect the different stops along the Hoovers’ journey. While basic in its presentation, the family’s rickety yellow VW camper van, which is effectively constructed from different tiered blocks and yellow kitchen chairs, also serves its purpose, Director Mehmet Ergen addressing the movement of the vehicle with a slow stage revolve.

Lily Mae Denman and Mean Girls in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Original London Cast of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Shame then that this offbeat musical feels so clunky, the biggest issue lying in William Finn’s score. Don’t get me wrong, Finn is clearly a talented individual and many of his numbers display an open-hearted honesty and vulnerability that is rarely seen in this type of show. The issue is that there is simply too many of them – many of which are talked rather than sung – and they are easily forgotten, every song feeling like a missed opportunity.

The same can be said for James Lapine’s book. The Tony award-winning playwright certainly brings a lot of heart to the production and there are some terrifically funny – and often filthy – moments which will make you laugh-out-loud, but the production ultimately struggles to find the right tonal balance between funny and sad, resulting in a feel-good road trip that goes nowhere.

Ian Carlyle, Imelda Warren-Green, Lily Mae Denman & Mean Girls in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Original London Cast of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

That said, you can’t fault the cast who altogether carry the piece, particularly Lucy O’Byrne who brings warmth and wounded vulnerability as mum Sheryl and Gary Vick who is vocally strong as dad Richard. There touching support from Paul Keating as emotionally distraught Uncle Frank, Sev Keoshgerian as moody teenager Dwayne and Mark Moraghan as the wayward Grandpa. But the show truly belongs to Sophie Hartley-Booth who delivers an engaging performance as Olive, the young dreamer blissfully unaware of her chaotic family, yet respectfully sensitive to them all.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE certainly isn’t a perfect production but with a bit more polishing, it has the potential to be something special. It may not boast the charm of the original film but it successfully celebrates the quirks of family life, something which we all can relate to.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE runs at The Lowry, Salford until 1 June 2019.