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Little Miss Sunshine at Malvern Theatres - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Musical version of Oscar winning film
Hilariously sarcastic, rude and with themes of suicide and unrealised dreams don't sound like the usual ingredients of a musical but Little Miss Sunshine has been transferred to stage with songs. So does it work?

Little miss sunshine, musical, Malvern Theatres, UK tour
Fun at a beauty pageant in Little Miss Sunshine

Turning it into a musical rather than just a play ran the risk of losing the essence of the Oscar-winning film about a dysfunctional family travelling across America to a children's beauty contest.

But behind the music and songs are an award-winning duo -James Lapine for the book and William Finn for the music and lyrics, who together won a Tony Award for Falsettos.

It's their songs that manage to fit in well with the storyline, toeing the line between sentimental and witty, which make it work as a stage version.

It's not a sickly sweet musical by any means, which is a relief as that wouldn't have worked, but Little Miss Sunshine manages to keep its edginess and humour in a similar way to what Avenue Q did for musicals.

Little miss sunshine, musical, Malvern Theatres, UK tour
Mark Moraghan stands out as Grandpa in the show

Mehmet Ergen, who is artistic director of Arcola Theatre, directs this Selladoor production on its UK tour, which is at Malvern Theatres for a week up to August 31.

It's a lively start, getting straight into the characters and the action as they head off on a family trip in a camper van.

Here we find couple Sheryl and Richard Hoover who are coping with a teenage son who won't talk, fiesty daughter Olive, who is desperate to enter the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest, Sheryl's brother Frank who is recovering from a suicide attempt and Richard's dad who was kicked out of a retirement village for using cocaine.

The laughs come thick and fast plus there's a clever set that recreates the journey across America in a simple yet effective way.

Little miss sunshine, musical, Malvern Theatres, UK tour
A dysfunctional family at the centre of the plot

This musical works well, partly because the script uses the same hilarious lines from the movie while the songs help to add to the atmosphere and give some background to the characters. The songs do however still take a back seat to the script.

What really makes this show is the way the actors gel together as a believable angst-ridden family. Then there are three young talented actresses sharing the key role of Olive, a part that brings the story to life through such a vivacious portrayal and is central to the show's success.

The build up and momentum is always towards the fateful beauty show, which lives up to expectations, partly thanks to the supporting actors giving some wonderfully quirky performances as characters at the pageant.

Little miss sunshine, musical, Malvern Theatres, UK tour
Three youngsters share the role of Olive.

There is a strong cast overall, which includes former Coronation Street and Brookside actor Mark Moraghan as Grandpa.

Moraghan gives a superbly zestful performance, encompassing the memorable larger than life, naughty character and he dominates the first act.

There's also terrific Paul Keating, who has twice been nominated for an Olivier, as professor Uncle Frank, who is very frank about taking an overdose about a failed love affair with a male student. Keating's deadpan approach is a delight.

Lucy O'Byrne and Gabriel Vick play the downtrodden parents, Sheryl and Richard, at the centre of the Hoover family. It's good to see O'Byrne, a former contestant on The Voice who also toured with The Sound Of Music, try a more demanding role than a straight musical and it suits her.

While Vick is a likeable dad with a natural ease on stage and a lovely voice.

Despite some melancholy themes in the plot, by the end, you can't help but feel hope and be uplifted by this little ray of sunshine.

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Why? See musical version of Oscar winning film
When: Until 31 August
Phone: 01684 892277
Where: Malvern Theatres, Grange Road, Malvern
Cost: From 23
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