sunshine trio

Mark Moraghan as Grandpa, Gabriel Vick as Richard, Lucy O'Byrne as Sheryl (holding Evie Gibson as Olive). Pictures: Richard H Smith

Little Miss Sunshine

Malvern Theatres


The Oscar-winning film won over hearts with its sarcastic, witty yet uplifting tale about a dysfunctional family travelling to a children's beauty pageant across America.

Turning it into a musical for stage rather than just a play seemed like a risky idea, especially as it would be messing with such a fine movie script.

But then the creators brought in two of the best in their field to create the musical side of the show; James Lapine is responsible for the book and William Finn for the music and lyrics, who together have already won a Tony Award for Falsettos.

Their expertise has managed to keep the essence of the film even through the songs, which fit in well with a sentimental tone and make it work as a stage version.

It's not a saccharin musical by any means as Little Miss Sunshine manages to keep the edginess and humour that make this story stand out.

Mehmet Ergen, who is artistic director of Arcola Theatre, directs this Selladoor production on its UK tour and has brought in a strong cast and some good effects to depict the epic road trip.

It includes former Coronation Street and Brookside actor Mark Moraghan as Grandpa, who gives a superbly zestful performance, encompassing the memorable larger than life, naughty character.

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.

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.

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

They play a couple 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 camper van and journey across America in a simple yet effective way.

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 so well as a believable angst ridden family.

Three young actresses share the 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 towards the actual beauty show, which lives up to expectations, partly thanks to the supporting actors giving some wonderfully quirky performances as characters at the pageant.

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. To 31-08-19.

Alison Brinkworth


Index page Malvern Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre