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Review: Little Miss Sunshine at New Theatre

By Rosie Niven

It is always an ambitious undertaking to attempt a story loved by so many. People are likely to come in with certain expectations of how the story should be told, and be more disappointed than usual when the work falls short. Little Miss Sunshine is definitely one of those cases, and as a huge fan of the 2006 movie, this was one show that I came into with very high expectations. Speaking with members of the audience, it feels like I wasn’t the only one - people were excited to see the Hoover family on the New Theatre stage, and follow Olive’s journey to become the first Miss America from New Mexico, starting with the highly coveted title of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.

The show revolves around the downtrodden Hoover family, all facing their own brand of failure: Richard, the patriarch, has developed an unsuccessful 10 steps to success; Grandpa has been blacklisted from every retirement home in New Mexico for drug use and promiscuity; Uncle Frank tried and failed to commit suicide after a painful breakup; Dwayne has taken a vow of silence and plans on nothing but getting away from his family; and matriarch Sheryl bears the brunt of everyone else’s mess. The only Hoover who believes their time is yet to come is Olive, who wins a heat of a children’s beauty pageant by default and is skyrocketed into the next round of the competition. Only catch is, the competition is in California… and the whole family has to come.

So begins a long and hilarious family road trip, one filled with musical numbers, a dead body, and one very old Combi van. Much of the sharp humour from the movie has thankfully made it into the musical adaptation, and banter between family members of quips from rowdy Grandpa make for an enjoyable show. However, much of this fantastic banter is lost due to the choice to not mic the performers: the live band, although small, completely drowns the performers, and at times there are entire verses lost in the music. Solo songs seemed to be clearer, but even then it was a challenge to hear much of what was being said. It felt like a relief the minute the band stopped, and we were allowed a quick glimpse into what made this plot so lovable in the first place.

While I didn’t love the choice for this to be turned into a musical, I can appreciate the fun that songs such as ‘The Happiest Guy in the Van’ bring, and if done with the right pizzaz, could amplify this story to a new level. This production however, fell somewhere in between straight play and full-blown musical, a choice which did not flatter the story and left me completely unsatisfied. Director Deborah Jones had an opportunity to bring fun and laughter to a beautiful story, but with this work so stripped back, that opportunity was missed. Instead the show dragged, and while the energy picked up significantly towards the climax, by this point we’d lost investment in this family’s plight to get their daughter to the pageant.

A lot of people, myself included, would have come into this show with a predisposition of how the story should be told, and unfortunately this production from New Theatre works against it. With a more jovial and farcical nature, the dramatic crux of the film’s narrative feels undercut and trivialised. Little Miss Sunshine is a story that, in short, feels jarring as a musical, and I would have loved to see this heartwarming narrative without the two-dimensional song and dance that came with this production.

Image Credit: Bob Seary

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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