Little Miss Sunshine is a hit film, treading a delicate line between depressing and utterly feel-good and doing the job just beautifully. The bold stage adaptation aims to bring that road trip vibe to life, with some showtunes thrown in for good measure.
The plot is simple on the surface – a dysfunctional family embarks on a roadtrip to California when beauty pageant wannabe Olive gets a place in the Little Miss Sunshine finale. However, what’s unique about the piece is it goes beyond ‘dysfunctional’ in a loud and proud, silly sense – instead, each family member is confronting their own internal struggles and this takes its toll on the rest of the group.
Down-and-out Dad Richard is determined to put a brave face on his redundancy, played almost too subtly by Gabriel Vick. Suicidal Uncle Frank is played several steps too camp by Paul Keating, meaning his struggles and mental health worries are almost brushed over with jazz hands. Selective mute Dwayne Hoover, played by Sev Keoshgerian is sick of the lot of them, as is matriarch Sheryl (played with an understated yet powerful vulnerability by Lucy O’Byrne). The whole situation is made worse by gregarious sex-mad Grandpa, played well by Mark Moraghan, even if I’m not a fan of the OTT smut.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Olive, played by Sophie Hartley-Booth. For such a little girl, she holds her own amongst the adult professionals and does a great job of being bratty but cute and the audience really roots for her.
As a stage adaptation, I’m not sure the music by James Lapine and William Finn adds anything – the songs are dreary and not particularly memorable and I personally think the show would be snappier without them. The production team would have then been able to focus on hiring a cast of comedy professionals without worrying about singing ability, meaning the comedy timing and opportunity for laughs would have been heightened. Many of the film’s ‘big’ moments are a bit of a squib onstage and the humorous dark comedy just becomes a little sad.
The show is definitely worth a watch, though, probably even more so for people who haven’t seen the film as they won’t have the comparison at the forefront of their mind.
Bringing a new musical to the stage is a fantastic thing, particularly when the show is designed to attract a vibrant new audience of people who wouldn’t perhaps go to the theatre that often. I’m a huge advocate of encouraging people to experience the arts in different ways, and Little Miss Sunshine certainly does that.
Catch the show at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, until 22nd June.