Culture, Theatre

Little Miss Sunshine at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

LMS - Paul Keating, Evie Gibson, Lucy O'Byrne, Sev Keoshgerian,Gabriel Vick & Imelda Warren-Green (c) Richard H Smith

When I think of movies which would translate easily onto film, Little Miss Sunshine isn’t one that immediately springs to mind. Yet five years after the movie made its way onto our screen, the musical adaptation hit a Californian stage before appearing as an off-Broadway show a couple of years later. What might not seem the most obvious screen-to-stage adaptation has clearly intrigued a lot of other people, and now Little Miss Sunshine the musical has landed here in Birmingham.

My memory of the movie was a little hazy, but I remember a feel-good film that almost had me crying with laughter at the final dance scene. Primarily set around a dysfunctional family; overworked mother Sheryl who is fretting about her families finances whilst her husband Richard is a wannabe life coach and author.  Sheryl’s brother Frank has come to live with the family, having recently tried to commit suicide.  Sheryl’s oldest child Dwayne has taken a vow of silence and Richard and Sheryl’s daughter Olive is a wannabe beauty queen whose win at a regional heat is the reason the family embark on long-road trip in a beat-up a bright yellow VW van. In essence it’s a basic story based around characters resolving difficult times in their lives, whilst in a fairly contained environment, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fits on stage.

LMS - Evie Gibson as Olive, Mark Moraghan as Grandpa (c) Richard H Smith

I needn’t have worried.  The show fits on stage well and despite most of the story being set in a VW van the producers have choreographed a show which uses a lot more of the stage, giving it a presence which works, whilst still inviting the audience into the claustrophobic family environment.  The three tiered van and movable seats allow for much more action to take place, but I can’t help feel a smaller stage would’ve given the production the intimacy of the movie.

Mark Moraghan plays the role of Grandpa Hoover.  He has an impressed back catalogue of acting roles, both on stage and screen, but most memorable to me (and probably showing my age) was when he played burly builder Greg Shadwick in Brookside.  Moraghan’s Grandpa Hoover is the same heroin-snorting, foul-mouthed sex-fiend as the movie, but on stage he steals almost every scene he’s in, even the more emotional moments with Olive Hoover (played on the night I saw it by Lily-Mae Denman).  Olive’s singing s a touch too nasal at first, in part I suspect due to the attempts at an American accent which several of the cast seem to fluctuate with.  But Lily-Mae Denman is a wonderful Olive, performing her with the right amount of child-like wisdom and eccentricity that make her loveable.

Lily Mae Denman & Mean Girils (c) Manuel Harlan

The play strikes the right amount of ridicule around the idea of kids beauty pageants, with Olive clearly the least likely to win as the other girls mimic the more grown up versions.  The idea of using the ‘mean girls’ who are used throughout the play to show the antithesis of quirky Olive works well, as does having them in identikit outfits like some sort of bullying girlband. Imelda Warren-Green is a wonderful character actress, playing the unhelpful hospital admin worker well, but the caricature of Miss California just felt a bit outdated.

If you’re expecting a show which is full of the big bellowing songs which will be stuck in your ears for days you’ll be disappointed. This was never going to be a louder than life show, it just wouldn’t fit the story. Instead, Little Miss Sunshine is an eccentric and likeable show which shows just how theatrical ordinary family life can be. Think quirky indie film versus the summer blockbuster, but with a real dose of feel-good.

Little Miss Sunshine is at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from Tuesday 16th to Saturday 20th July 2019. Tickets can be purchased from the Alex’s website.

This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Richard H Smith.

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