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Little Miss Sunshine finds 'fun in dysfunctional' at Alexandra Theatre - review with pictures

By Leon Burakowski | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

A feuding family finally find common purpose on a road trip to a California children’s beauty and talent contest in this musical based on a cult comedy-drama movie from 2006.

Evie Gibson as Olive, Mark Moraghan as Grandpa

The quirky film found the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional in its tale about the misfit Hoover family, their unreliable old VW Camper van and a quest for youngest member, Olive, to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

The stage version, directed by Mehmet Ergen and making its European debut, does a good job of emulating the eccentric feel-good movie, turned into a musical by sometime Sondheim collaborator James Lapine and William Finn. It is served by strong performances from a cast in fine voice.

Evie Gibson as Olive

Coronation Street Mark Moraghan is the drug-taking, sex-obsessed Grandpa Hoover, who has been booted out of his care home for bad behaviour. Gabriel Vick is Olive’s father Richard Hoover, the wannabe self-help coach who can’t help himself; Paul Keating is gay Uncle Frank, a heart-broken academic recovering from a suicide attempt; Lucy O’Byrne is Sheryl, the mom trying to hold the family together but on the brink of giving up; Sev Keoshgerian is Olive’s brother Dwayne, a nihilistic turbulent teen who communicates via phone text after taking a vow of silence, which he finally breaks with an explosive expletive.

Of course, the star attraction is Olive, whose enthusiasm and optimism will eventually save the family. The role is being shared by three child actors for different performances. At this performance Lily-Mae Denman was the pint-sized performer who literally ran rings around the rest of the cast.

Gabriel Vick as Richard, Evie Gibson as Olive

The songs are not, on the whole, memorable, but they do a good job of moving the story along, and the best of them, Something Better Better Happen, is well performed by the very capable Miss O’Byrne, who many may remember as runner-up in The Voice.

The production has the feel of an off-Broadway show, where in fact it began, with its basic but clever set on which chairs and a bumper revolve to represent the Hoovers’ home, the van and motel rooms. The show’s musicians are on a gantry above the stage.

Although unlikely to become a mainstream hit, Little Miss Sunshine is likely to win a loyal following among fans of modern American musicals. It is at the Alexandra until Saturday, July 20, and will be at Malvern’s Festival Theatre from August 27 to 31.

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