Little Miss Sunshine at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield Review

9-13 July 2019

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Reviewed by Jenny Seymour

I was really pleased to be able to take my mum to the theatre last night for her birthday. We were both intrigued to see how this Oscar-winning tale of misfits (who could only be tied together because they are family) forced to travel together on a 700 mile US road trip would work on stage. If you haven’t seen the film, much of this story takes place on board a campervan – how would this be brought to life? Would it be able to create the sense of boredom that ensues when 5 family members are confined to such a small space for such a long time?

This play is about a troubled family who pull together to help little Olive follow her dream of winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant – some 750 miles away in California! Can they challenge the perceptions and overcome the “ways of the world” to fulfil their dreams?

It was certainly brought to life by some great characters and, whilst relatively simple, an effective set. The bus is made at each scene change and even converts into a motel bed! The way the actors create the sense of pushing such a great heap of metal from Albuquerque to California was excellent.

The play has a small cast. It largely consists of the Hoover family: Mum Sheryl (played by Lucy O’Byrne who has a look of Toni Colette from the film; “jock” Dad Richard; frisky “powder-loving” Grandpa; intellectual, but troubled Uncle Frank; teenage Dwayne with his vow of silence and the fabulous, star of the show, 10 year old Olive). Having said that the supporting cast also play great roles – from the hammed up Miss California and compere to the “mean girls” who try to convince Olive that she has no place in a beauty pageant. Every cast member had a great voice and were truly believable. Credit has to go to Mark Moraghan who plays the overly frisky Grandpa thrown out of his exclusive retirement village for “doing drugs” and of course the fabulous, Evie Gibson who played Olive on the night we watched it. 

This is a tale about pursuing your dream, challenging the expected “norms” and prejudices of society and challenging “The Way of the World”. 

The 1st Act introduces each of the characters and brings with it some surprises – not least that Grandpa is a nymphomania and there is a whole song dedicated to teaching his grandson why he is the “Happiest Guy in the Van” – sex education! [Be aware of this and some swearing if you are taking younger family members to watch this.] The 1st Act also tells of the “jock” Richard and “geeky” Sheryl as teens, caught out with the conception of their first son, thrown together in life and whose lives were then changed forever, bumbling along the path of parenthood with all of the issues that this brings for every family – can they overcome these differences as the road trip continues?

As I say, whilst every cast member gives strong vocal performances, I was left at the interval wondering if this would be better placed as a play, rather than a musical. Some of the narrative was presented via song and I’m not sure that worked as well. The only songs that I felt grabbed me in the first Act were the initial song explaining “what the world is about” and the final song Grandpa sings to Olive about her being the most beautiful girl in the world to him – a touching moment! The programme doesn’t help in reminding you of the musical performances, as unusually these aren’t detailed at all.

The 2nd Act for me was by far the best. There are some great musical performances (the harmonies in “something better better happen” and the way the bus turns when each character joins in was fabulous). These were topped by Olive’s final performance in the talent section of the pageant – “Shake your Badonkadonk!”. The audience is encouraged to “take part” in the pageant – applauding and encouraging Olive.

Unfortunately for this production, it has been given the summer slot at the Lyceum and so the theatre was not full for opening night, but this just means that there will be tickets left for the remainder of the run – so I’d recommend booking to see this fun loving road trip comedy!

A charming musical comedy which takes you on a journey to challenge and overcome the ways of the world! Go Olive Go!

Rating: 4/5

Tickets cost from £15 (booking fees may apply).

Little Miss Sunshine is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 9-13 July 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.

Please note:  If you park in the local Q Park car park, remember to claim your 1 hour FREE ticket from one of the members of the theatre staff before you leave.

Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA ‎| 0114 249 6000

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