Little Miss Sunshine - Musical Review

Rating: 3

By Richard Barber

Despite being a small-scale film, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine took more than $100 million at the box office and won Alan Arkin a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Now it’s been turned into a musical (book by James Lapine, music and lyrics by William Finn) and is enjoying its European premiere at Dalston’s enterprising Arcola Theatre before touring the UK. 

Given that the Hoover family are intent on driving their beaten-up VW camper van from their home in Albuquerque to California so that their young daughter, Olive, can take part in a beauty pageant, the odds are somewhat stacked against success given the confines of the space available in a theatrical production of what was essentially a road movie. 

And yet, director Mehmet Ergen and designer David Woodhead quickly make you overlook these shortcomings with a tiered, open-sided platform and a few portable kitchen chairs on a rotating stage area. 

And there are winning performances from a talented cast. As Olive’s parents, the always reliable Gabriel Vick and Laura Pitt-Pulford utterly convince as Richard and Sheryl, a couple battling financial woes, the problems of an older child, Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian), who has pledged not to talk until he’s accepted at flight school and the additional burden of Sheryl’s suicidal gay brother, Frank (Paul Keating). 

Richard’s anarchic father, played with a merry twinkle by Gary Wilmot, is on hand to undermine proceedings, his first-act song, The Happiest Guy in the Van, extolling the merits of geriatric sex cheering up proceedings considerably. There’s also a striking turn from Imelda Warren-Green as, first, a hatchet-faced hospital administrator and, later, as the pageant’s reigning beauty queen.

But the loudest cheers were reserved for Sophie Hartley-Booth (one of three youngsters alternating the role of Olive). Child actors walk a perilous tightrope between touching charm and toe-curling cuteness. With her serious face, her circular specs and her natural talent, Sophie passes every test with flying colours.

But I’m not sure it works as a musical. Gabriel Vick has a poignant solo, What You Left Behind, remembering his father; and Something Better Better Happen worms its way into your head by its second helping. Otherwise, though, the score doesn’t really add anything of significance to justify saying it again – with music.

Little Miss Sunshine is at the Arcola until 11 May before touring. For tickets call 020-7503 1646 or go to