Fast-paced, full of energy and a whole lot of attitude, TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL is feel-good theatre at its best.
Last year saw Hope Mill Theatre staged the European premiere of the musical adaptation of CINDERELLA. This year, they have secured the world premiere of TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL – and what an utter sumptuous joy it is.
Based on the iconic 1995 film, which tells the story of three drag queens and their journey across America, turning TO WONG FOO into a musical could have easily missed the mark, but not here. This adaptation by Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the original screenplay, takes all the core elements of the film and creates a masterpiece of musical theatre.
The production is fast-paced, sparkles with energy and moves along with no scene wasted. There is pathos, a bit of humility and a whole lot of attitudes, plus stunning costumes by Gregory Gale. The clever use of props to create each scene is sheer genius, and the intricate choreography by Jane McMurtrie compliments each musical number.
The central characters of Vida (Peter Caulfield), Noxeema (Gregory Haney) and Chi Chi (Pablo Gomez Jones) have all the familiar one-liners and the trio have a palpable chemistry that plays off each other well. Haney excels at the barbed put-downs of world-weary Noxeema, Jones inhabits the needy Chi Chi, and Caulfield’s Vida glides like a Hollywood star from the golden age.
Often, with musicals, you are aware of a scene merely being a device to get to the next song, but this is not the case with TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL. Every scene has a point, from selling the tickets in the China Bowl to Vida’s interaction with the put-upon and downtrodden Carol Anne, played delicately by Carolyn Maitland. Every song captures the mood perfectly, thanks to the wonderful score by Lewis Flinn.
From the ensemble cast pieces to the central characters’ wonderful harmonising, every number is note-perfect. FEEL THE LIGHT, IT WILL BE BEAUTIFUL and RED AND WILD all stand out; strawberries will never be the same again.
TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL is feel-good theatre, and the show envelopes the audience like an expensive cashmere wrap on a cold day. It is cosy, familiar, warm, generous in its enthusiasm and statuesque in its presence. We do see touches of serious moments, such as Vida’s encounter with the local Sheriff and reactions of some of the good folk of Snydersville when the trio first arrive, but the overall message is one of acceptance and to live your life how you want to.
If you want to have a fabulous, fizzy, festive frolic, then this is the production to put in your Christmas stocking. It is a gorgeous romp through a much-loved film with added oomph and has West End hit written all over it.
TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, until 17 December 2023.