It's Pageant time! With Imelda Warren-Green as Miss California, Ian Carlyle as Buddy, and smiling behind, Lily Mae Denman as Olive. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Little Miss Sunshine

The Alexandra Theatre


Of all the iconic films which you could imagine being transplanted to stage – Little Miss Sunshine is not one of them.

To stage it is tricky, it’s a road movie after all, then you have the issue of it being so iconic on screen. Then, with such good performances, do you try and match them, try to emulate them or try to change them?

Finally, you’ve got the fact that it’s a story about the subversion of the American dream. Success and hopes gone sour.

So, do they manage to pull it off?

In all honesty – sort off.

The calibre of the acting, singing and dancing is very good. The songs may suffer somewhat as they’re new to the Little Miss Sunshine universe, thus they are missing the inherent feel-good factor of the film and also the comfort blanket feel of being immediately familiar to the audience. 

That’s not to say that they’re not well performed, they just miss a connection with the audience a tad.  

The story is generally faithful to the film, adding some elements which flesh out the characters backstory but removing other elements such as the well-known policeman scene.

The road movie element is handled well with the Campervan being an interesting element to the set rather than a slavish inclusion. The only thing I found odd was that there was no steering wheel, this gave it a slightly off-putting feel for all van scenes.

The staging itself was very good and I particularly liked the orchestra being visible at the top of the set, it made for a very intimate feeling piece.

The cast were excellent, with Mark Moraghan, he of Holby City fame, having a blast as Grandpa Hoover. If I can have one criticism, it’s that he looks a little bit too young and trendy to be a surprise as a silver haired hell raiser thus it’s not a massive surprise that he’s an anarchist.


Lily Mae Denman as Olive

However, I think this is probably a hangover from watching Alan Arkin’s superb original performance. Lucy O’Byrne is wonderful as mother Sheryl, bringing a real sensitivity to the role and Gabriel Vick is first-rate as Dad, Richard. He is also a dead ringer for Greg Kinnear’s mannerisms in the film. Paul Keating as Frank brings seriousness with tinges of humour, with Lily Mae Denman as Olive and Sev Keoshgerian as Dwayne outstanding and never looking like second fiddle.

If I had one criticism of the show it’s that the finale slightly misses the mark. In terms of the obscenity and absurdity of children’s pageant shows this doesn’t really get shown, partly due to the fact that the competition are three young ladies rather than children of a comparable age.

 I can completely see why they used adults in these parts but it does affect the balance of the piece. Not only does it not show the grotesqueness of the pageants and those that support them, but, conversely also means that it cannot show the contrasting sweetness of Olive as much.

The final number, a showstopper in the film, is well performed. However, you can’t help but feel that it is hampered by the fact that there’s no real conflict (internal or external) and the song does not have the oomph of Rick James' Super Freak. 

That doesn’t take away from the fact it is an enjoyable show which is very well performed, there is no shame in falling short of such a fantastic film. And if you loved the film then you’re sure to enjoy this, just maybe not quite as much. Directed by Mehmet Ergen it runs at the Alex to 20-07-19

Theo Clarke


Little Miss Sunshine's campervan will be rolling up to Malvern Theatres 27-31 August.

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