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Review Roundup: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE Opens at Second Stage - All the Reviews!

Tonight, November 14, Second Stage opens its much-anticipated production of Little Miss Sunshine. This new musical comedy is based on the film of the same name by Michael Arndt. It was adapted for the stage by Tony Award-winning team James Lapine, who wrote the book, and William Finn, who wrote the lyrics and music.

When Olive Hooper, a young girl, decides that the title of "Little Miss Sunshine" is within her grasp, she convinces her family to make the journey to the pre-teen pageant. Even though they give in, her family is convinced that Olive's dream is rather far-fetched. Along the way, they encounter several mishaps and their plans are almost thwarted. However, the 800-mile trek brings them closer together and they begin to believe that Olive's dream may bring them all closer to happiness.

The role of Olive Hooper is being played by Hannah Nordberg, who is making her Off-Broadway debut at age nine. The cast also includes Stephanie J. Block as Sheryl, Will Swenson as Richard, Logan Rowland as Dwayne, David Rasche as Grandpa Hoover, and Rory O'Malley as Frank.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Neither gravely disappointing nor entirely rewarding, the musical coasts along perkily as it follows a dysfunctional family on a cross-country journey of emotional renovation. Unlike the distinctive "Spelling Bee," it exudes little real personality...The bigger problem is that the edges of the characters in the movie seem to have been sanded down. When they open up their interior lives in Mr. Finn's songs, it's as if these rough-and-rumpled people have been put through a rinse cycle with extra fabric softener. This might have been less deleterious if Mr. Finn's score matched his best work. But for the most part, the songs come and go like signposts along the highway, efficiently underscoring the emotions of a plot turn...Unfortunately, it's a measure of the show's blandness that these gleaming little mean girls, junior division, are better company than the frazzled family at the center of the show.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: ...this limp musical retread of the 2006 indie comedy about a dysfunctional family's healing road trip refuses to take us on any kind of journey. Given that composer William Finn and writer-director James Lapine previously collaborated on such oddball delights as Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, this stubbornly charmless show is a sad letdown...The reworked show turns up Off Broadway at Second Stage with a new cast, fresh set design and some song substitutions, streamlined from two acts that ran close to 2½ hours into a single act clocking in at one hour, 40 minutes. But rarely have so many talented people worked so hard trying to breathe life into such stillborn material. The songs are dreary, the staging inert and the characters never come alive.

Linday Winer, Newsday: The result may not be as deep and daring as "Falsettos" or as blissfully improbable as "Spelling Bee." But the 100-minute chamber musical is an ingenious, jaunty, sweet but not sticky sweet invention that honors the hit movie while, unlike so many adaptations, happily justifies its life on the stage...Reconceived after a 2011 LaJolla, Calif., premiere, deftly recast and restaged with high-imagination, low-tech flash, the show touches a lot of genuine problems with good humor and just a bit of serious anguish.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: For a story with built-in urgency...remarkably little feels at stake in the hotly anticipated new musical "Little Miss Sunshine,"which has just opened at Second Stage. Maybe that's because those of us who cherished the 2006 indie sleeper on which it's based easily recall pivotal plot points and the feel-good outcome. But, I suspect it lies more in the curiously raw book and score by master storytellers James Lapine and William Finn, whose more compelling collaborations include "Falsettos" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"...I was left wondering what ever made Finn and Lapine view "Little Miss Sunshine" and think: "Let's turn it into a musical!" I'm just not sold on the idea that such a featherweight, if uplifting narrative ever demanded a melodic treatment.

Matt Windman, AM New York: With songwriter William Finn and director-playwright James Lapine, who previously collaborated on "Falsettos" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," at the helm, this ought to have been a smash. So it is disappointing to report just how bad and uninspired "Little Miss Sunshine" has turned out. Except for one zestful solo for the grandfather in which he brags about his sex life, Finn's songs are sappy and devoid of flavor...As the parents, Will Swenson ("Hair") and Stephanie J. Block ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood") appear hamstrung, while newcomer Hannah Nordberg, as the enthusiastic pageant contestant Olive, is appropriately adorable.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: The cast of Little Miss Sunshine can surely relate; yet no matter how hard the actors push-sometimes too hard-their musical vehicle stays broken...But it's hard not to expect something better from the team of composer William Finn and writer-director James Lapine, whose previous collaborations have included Falsettos and A New Brain. Both of those shows, however, were written from scratch; here, trying to put the likable 2006 indie film onstage, the authors have failed to adapt...The movie was a quirky hit; the musical's a big miss.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: The arrival in New York of "Little Miss Sunshine," a musical version of the 2006 hit indie flick about an unhappy family from Albuquerque that takes an 800-mile road trip to enroll its youngest member in a children's beauty pageant, teaches a salutary lesson: No matter how good you are, you can still write a bad show. William Finn and James Lapine, the co-creators of "Little Miss Sunshine," are gifted and experienced without limit...Yet "Little Miss Sunshine" is a dud, one whose flaws appear in the cold light of hindsight to be blindingly self-evident. What were they thinking?

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Making sport of America's obsession with sexualizing children and with selling stuff is nothing new, but the 2006 movie skillfully mixed bemused social commentary with a keen sense of family dynamics. Not so the musical, which has songs by William Finn and a book by James Lapine, who also directs. On Beowulf Boritt's swooping set, the humor curdles and an estimable cast never engages our sympathy. Stephanie J. Block struggles to make the mother more than a worrywart; Will Swenson seems at sea as the overwrought father and David Rasche is miscast as the grandfather, a role that won Alan Arkin an Oscar...The bright spots are the kids: Dour Logan Rowland as the silent Dwayne and Hannah Nordberg's endearing Olive.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Much like an old yellow hippie-era VW bus, the musical version of Little Miss Sunshine now playing at Off Broadway's Second Stage Theatre struggles to keep its engine running and never quite proves ready for the highway. Writer-director James Lapine remains almost slavishly faithful to the 2006 indie sensation, including planting his main characters in that VW bus (actually, six onstage chairs on wheels) for a big chunk of the show's 100 intermissionless minutes. But he and veteran composer William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) never manage the trickier task of fully adapting the material to a new medium and justifying its existence on stage.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Whereas the 2006 movie spiked its sentimentality with healthy doses of vulgarity and dark humor, the musical's sunnier approach confuses sweetness with sucrose. Too bad, because this story of a family accepting itself was easy to root for...The actors are fine, even if they don't quite overcome the long shadow cast by their film predecessors. The ones who do are young Hannah and the criminally underrated Stephanie J. Block (late of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood") as Olive's harried mom, Sheryl. While the score isn't up to Finn's usual high standard, it boasts a couple of nuggets, including Sheryl's melancholy ballad "Something Better Better Happen," which Block turns into pure heartbreak.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Lapine's generally witty book and vibrant, heartfelt direction -- and Finn's more uneven score -- provide enough such high points to sustain Sunshine through its mostly brisk 100 minutes.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Unfortunately, the new stage musical version by William Finn (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book and direction) - the same team behind "Falsettos" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" - at Second Stage Theatre doesn't get in gear and can't duplicate the movie's magnetism. The show aims for poignancy, but ends up being corny. The story of underdogs - and who doesn't love that - feels smaller now and inconsequential.

David Cote, TimeOut NY: Finn's lyrics and bouncy score have witty moments, but too often, they seem generic ballads and strained attempts at hipster comedy. Likewise, Lapine's too-faithful book and direction tries to translate the movie's road-trip vibe to the stage with chairs on wheels, but the trek grows tedious. There's no shortage of talent on both sides of the footlights, but "Little Miss Sunshine" can't really turn a cloying tale of losers into a winning musical formula.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Even the clever minimalism of Spelling Bee has been reduced to cheapness here. This was partly inevitable: How could a stage production handle a story that mostly takes place inside a van as the Hoovers travel 800 miles from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach for the title pageant? And how, especially, could it re-create the key scene in which the family members must run alongside the malfunctioning wreck and jump into it one at a time? I'm sorry to say this is all done with yellow vinyl kitchen chairs on casters. Other than that, Beowulf Boritt's set has little to offer but seven projection screens, as if to highlight the fact that the show is not a movie. Even the orchestra is hidden somewhere, perhaps embarrassed.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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