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Brighten your day with this road musical
Sometimes it's best to keep things simple. Staging a musical portraying an 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California could have been daunting but for Little Miss Sunshine the set is uncluttered and the props kept to a minimum, meaning the audience can concentrate fully on the small cast who bring the eventful journey to life.
Based on the 2006 film that won two Oscars (Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt and Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin), the touring show boasts the addition of music and lyrics by William Finn.
It tells the story of Albuquerque family, the Hoovers, who set off on a last-minute journey in a rickety camper van to Redondo Beach so 10-year-old daughter Olive can enter a beauty pageant. There's a deadline to meet and as the road trip progresses the problems pile up. Relationships are strained but bridges are also built.
The back to basics approach of director Mehmet Ergan can be seen in the 'camper van' which is portrayed using wooden blocks, wheels and kitchen chairs (there's not even a steering wheel) and later doubles as a hotel bed.
Ray of sunshine: Paul Keating, Lucy O'Byrne, Sev Keoshgerian,Gabriel Vick, Imelda Warren-Green (pic: Richard H Smith)
The cast are why you should see this show. Lucy O'Byrne, runner-up on series four of The Voice, is Sheryl, the mum. After roles in Evita, The Sound of Music and Les Misérables, this is a different direction for her, one she tackles with ease. Her singing voice is sweet and the audience easily empathises with her. Hubby Richard is played by Gabriel Vick, who offers a strong performance as he realises his money-making business idea is not going to fly. He's also good in a scene that flashes back to his early days with Sheryl.
Sheryl's gay brother Frank (Paul Keating) has some emotional scenes with Olive, who is never afraid to ask straight questions like 'Why did uncle Frank try to kill himself?' The van is also transporting Olive's brother, Dwayne, a moody teenager who has reads Nietzsche and has refused to speak for 85 days. Portrayed by Sev Keoshgerian, he earns his fee in the second half when a revelation concerning his future loosens his tongue.
My two favourite characters occupy the final two seats in the van. Lecherous Grandpa (Mark Moraghan) has some of the funniest lines and the best song, The Happiest Guy in the Van. Without revealing any spoilers, let's just say it would have been good to have seen a lot more of him.
Pageant: Lily Mae Denman steals the show from Imelda Warren-Green and Ian Carlyle (pic: Manuel Harlan)
The star of the show is Lily Mae Denman as Olive. The 10-year-old from Hertfordshire, who made her West End debut in Les Misérables last year, stole the Birmingham audience's heart with an assured performance that saw her faultlessly singing, dancing and acting.
Star: Imelda Warren-Green (pic: Richard H Smith)
The cast is completed by six actors taking dual roles, the stand-outs being Ian Carlyle, who is excellent as the beauty pageant host, and Imelda Warren-Green, who demonstrates a flair for comedy as hospital administrator Linda and reigning beauty pageant queen Miss California.
Ironically, the weak link in this 'road musical' is the music. On the whole, the songs are not as memorable as they should be. They advance the story but this leads to an overabundance of lyrics. In my opinion, the stage version of Little Miss Sunshine would be more of a winner as a non-musical drama.
Venue: Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Little Miss Sunshine 2019 UK tour dates:
Until July 20: Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham; July 31 - Aug 3: Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury;
Aug 12 - Aug 17: Olympia Theatre, Dublin;
Aug 20 - Aug 24: Playhouse, Oxford;
Aug 27 - Aug 31: Festival Theatre, Malvern;
Sept 3 - Sept 7: Haymarket Theatre, Leicester;
Sept 9 - Sept 14: New Theatre, Cardiff;
Sept 17 - Sept 21: His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen;
Sept 24 - Sept 28: Playhouse, Liverpool.