Bringing film to the live stage is never an easy feat. Few have succeeded in recent times, but when they work, they’re pure gold. The first that comes to mind is the brilliant Shrek which translated wonderfully to the stage, so there was genuine intrigue when it came to viewing Little Miss Sunshine live at York Grand Opera House. The film, a comedy drama that combines a bunch of real misfits on a journey to discover what makes families, families, is one that is widely underrated. Performances from Steve Carrell and Alan Arkin bring it to life and it is a (dark), fun filled ride from start to finish. So – how did it translate to the theatre?
The story is the same, there’s no question about that. Little deviation from the plot and core feeling, James Lapine and William Finn captured everything that Michael Arndt initially wanted to convey with the movie version of this plot. Following the Hoover family from Albuquerque to California for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, the play draws on multiple dramatic scenes centring around financially troubled father Richard (Gabriel Vick), emotionally troubled mother Sheryl (Lucy O’Byrne), drug taking, inspirational Grandpa (Mark Monoghan), failed suicide victim Frank (Paul Keating), and two young children.
Throughout the entirety of the play, as in the movie, the families iconic Yellow VW is the centrepiece of the set-up. Demonstrated with kitchen chairs and a battered looking yellow frame – the VW is not as prominent as the movie, and the movement is created by the cast rather than extravagant tech. The stage is well constructed by Mehmet Ergen and David Woodhead’s, who utilise space, and few set changes to take the audience on a real journey making use of the rotating central area allowing for depth to be achieved from such a limited space. Whilst in times, the musical lacks the real feeling of the movie and the songs don’t encourage the same dramatic emotion as the Arndt’s version, Ergen and Woodhead together with Lapine and Finn, produce theatre magic with Little Miss Sunshine that without the movie edition to compare, would be a great stand alone.
Little Miss Sunshine is a musical with several emotional and physical ups and downs, harking on the difficulties within and around families; but the one consistent within the show is the energy and enthusiasm of young Olive (Insert actress) who is without doubt the star. From the start, the exuberance of the young girl is nothing short of admiral; Abigail Breslin is phenomenal in the movie so replicating that showing was always going to be a challenge. The scripting though, and the way in which the character grows into the musical allows her to increase in confidence with every audience reaction leading to the outstanding Beauty Pageant finale – a heart warming, smile beaming moment that draws on the emotion portrayed throughout.
Whilst the finale is the highlight, driven by the track, on the whole, the musical could benefit from a few stronger, better placed songs. The tracks, in places, feel shoehorned in, because its a musical rather than to make it a musical and often lack the drive required to get audiences feet tapping. The shining musical moments away from the pageant though, came from Monaghan with his sex fuelled camper van rant, and Ian Carlyle and Imelda Warren-Green’s cameos – two humorous and extremely watchable characters who, when on stage, stole the scene.
As previously alluded to, had Little Miss Sunshine not had a fantastic movie to compare it to, it would make for a great stand alone musical. Plenty of laughs and certainly no yawns, the musical, from start to finish was a delight to watch and certainly left me wanting to go and watch the movie again!
The show runs from 16 May until 12 October 2019.