Review: Little Miss Sunshine at Arcola Theatre

PUBLISHED: 11:00 15 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:00 15 April 2019

Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan.

Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan.


Road trips have long been adopted as a metaphor to convey the lessons that can be learned over the course of a life. Well-worn to the point of cliché, however, it is not easy for fresh shades to fill such tired etchings.

Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan.Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan.

Against the odds, the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine managed to do just that. Motored by an appealingly offbeat jocular tone, this irreverent drama proved to be a crowd-pleasing, runaway hit. Now, thanks to the efforts of James Lapine and William Finn, we have a musical iteration. Fans of the original fear not: the zesty verbal interplay that fuelled the film remains intact.

The story centres on the beleaguered Hoover family. Together they traipse across the States in a beaten-up VW Campervan so that the youngest of their clan, 7-year old Olive (Lily Mae Denman) can participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Whilst many families contain elements of dysfunction, in the Hoover's it is rife.

Disparate personalities include lascivious grandpa (Gary Wilmot - who steals many of the scenes in the first act), suicidal Proust expert Frank (Paul Keating), husband and wife duo, Richard (Gabriel Vick) and Sheryl (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and mute Nietzsche obsessive, Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian).

The biggest question of all is whether music adds or detracts from the narrative. Well, a little bit of both, truth be told. When they hit the mark though, as they do in songs such as 'Happiest Guy in the Van' and the show-stopping, giddy finale 'Shake Your Badonkadonk', they electrify the room.

There are a couple of missteps. Diversions such as those into Cheryl and Richard courting days derail momentum and leave the first half of this production looking a bit like a sorry jalopy in need of push up a steep hill. Once the second half unfolds, however, it zips along giddily and hits all the right notes. Amongst a capable cast, Imelda Warren-Green lights up the stage in both of her roles.

Acolytes of the source will be appeased, but this Little Miss Sunshine works on its own terms too. Momentum quibbles aside; this is a solid slice of out-and-out, mirth-mustering entertainment.

4 stars

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