Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Well, what a charming little show Little Miss Sunshine is. The evening was such a pleasant surprise. I’d heard mixed things (mostly negative), but it was a treat, plain and simple.

True, the show already has a lot going for it since it’s based on the excellent movie hit of 2006. I only saw it once in theatres, but it’s remained one of my favorites. The movie made an impression because it had a new, touching, funny screenplay with a talented cast, and now you can encounter that same great combination on stage.

You’ve got Stephanie J. Block, Will Swenson, and Rory O’Malley to name a few of the performers. Then there is music by William Finn whose work you might have heard if you’re a fan of Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, or A New Brain, and the book and direction is by James Lapine. You know you’re in good hands if you have Lapine taking care of you (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George). I don’t remember the last time I saw a musical with this strong of a book. Again, this may simply be because they’re working with gold. I’m not sure how many lines are taken directly from the screenplay (I think another movie viewing is in order), but the musical definitely sticks to the plot.

Why turn this particular movie into a stage show? Because it’s just so damn fun to watch them figure out the van. If you recall, the bright yellow VW bus is a key character in the movie, as the family spends many an hour riding, driving, and pushing it from New Mexico to California. In this production the bus is six chairs on wheels and boy, do they make it work. The bus transforms throughout the piece. It’s incredibly clever, and the choreography is sharp and clean. In fact, the whole show is. It’s well put together with an extremely talented cast playing well-developed characters. The supporting characters are also hilarious (I wish Wesley Taylor had more to do!).

Now it’s not perfect. The score isn’t to die for; I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did when I saw Spelling Bee on Broadway. I didn’t leave humming the songs, and a few could pack a little more punch. I wanted more from the son’s big number, and the bathroom encounter between Frank (O’Malley) and his ex left much to be desired. The opening moments of the show were also odd. It just kind of…started. It was as if it picked up in the middle of a song, and I thought I had missed something. Nonetheless, the harmonies are beautiful, and the music certainly fits the style of the piece.

Overall, it’s quirky, fun, and adorable, just like the film. It was nice to see the story again with a new twist. And you have to go simply to see that pageant at the end. After being disappointed by the musicals thus far this season, Little Miss Sunshine is a breath of a fresh air.

Little Miss Sunshine
Written by James Lapine and William Finn, Directed by James Lapine
Second Stage Theatre through December 15th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Stephanie J. Block, Will Swenson, and the Cast of Little Miss Sunshine

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