West End Premiere
Picadilly Theatre, London
Monday 7th January 2013
Jukebox musicals are all the fashion, with much of the West End taken up with shows that do not feature any new music at all, and they generally succeed because audiences love them. The ABBA original - Mamma Mia! - is an international phenomenon, star-studded hit movie, and in London is still thrilling audiences almost 14 years on.
The Spice Girls were my era. When "Wannabe" was released in the Summer of 1996 I was 10. These days musicals are my thing, and so the idea of a musical based on the songs that tracked my childhood was particularly exciting, and I joined in the frenzy of anticipation that swelled in the months and weeks leading up to the opening of Viva Forever.
I read the critics reviews.
"Oh dear, there is very little to recommend this show" ~ The Guardian;
"scrappy, lazy, cliched and inconclusive" ~ The Times;
"truly mediocre attempt" ~ The Stage;
"a show that’s so bad, it ought, if there were any justice, to be accorded a minus-star rating. This show is not just bad, it is definitively, monumentally and historically bad" ~ The Telegraph
But the critics didn't like We Will Rock You - which I have seen 5 times and is still rocking, 10 years on.
This show is aimed at me - I was the Spice Girls original target audience and, as a female in my late-20s am slap bang in the middle of this show's target too. I had no expectations of cerebral, thought-provoking, award-winning drama - I just wanted to enjoy some cheesy pop in the context of a funny story.
I could not have been more disappointed.
We open on a scene which frantically tries to introduce the lead characters - girl group 'Eternity' which includes Viva, our absurdly named protagonist, Viva's mother, her grotesque best friend, her love interest - as well as introducing the premise of the X-Factor style show, Starseekers, which is the basis
for the story. 15 minutes of talking before we are given anything resembling a song. It takes very little imagination to fix this opening and get the audience pepped up from the outset - if this group of "Wannabes" have achieved a place on a TV talent show, how about showing us their audition song...?
It would do little to improve the evening however, as Jennifer Saunders' book is so weak and poorly thought out it makes Mamma Mia's narrative arc feel like Shakespeare. Eternity are contestants who, after one number ("Stop" - one of the few songs that was adequately integrated and well delivered), are immediately split up as judge Simone decides she only wants to take Viva through to the remainder of the competition. And so immediately any further chances for girl-band singing disappear until the inevitable reconciliation at the end, and there is very little opportunity for the rest of the girls in the band to do anything at all for the rest of the show.
The sub-plot - that Viva is adopted and the TV show want to exploit this as a sentimental backstory - cries out to be tied into the rest of the plot via the discovery that Simone is the natural mother. This is built up with Simone's screeched "I Turn To You" - a Mel C solo hit - clumsily directed towards Viva. However the denouement of this entirely irrelevant storyline fizzles out entirely as the end result is simply that the mother could not be found by Simone's PA Minty - who is unashamedly similar to Ab Fab's Bubbles.
This PA character, with her repeated use of vocalised "hashtags", text-speak and references to social networking are such cliche attempts at humour they become grossly uncomfortable. Coupled with other characters; the gay stylist who skipped about calling the young girls fat, the spray-tanned Essex girl who joyously offered to display her new vajazzle to the cameras; there was, in fact, more to offend than to enjoy.
The songs of the Spice Girls were never going to be strong enough to stand up to much re-arrangement, nor was it likely there was ever going to be much emotional depth generated from their lyrics. But the attempts at both were cringe worthy rather than charming.
I will stop now. I didn't like it. I recommend you don't go, but if you are intrigued enough to buy a ticket, don't say I didn't warn you...