BWW Review: Farcical LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE Misses the Mark at Blank Canvas
"Little Miss Sunshine"is a musical adapted from the hit 2006 film of the same name.
In 2013, the musical ran for only a month and a day off-Broadway.
The short run, and the low-level quality of both the book and the music, is surprising as the show was created by the Tony Award-winning team of James Lapine, who was, in part, responsible for "Into the Woods" and "Sunday in the Park with George," and William Finn, whose credits include "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Falsettos."
As was the case with the film, the musical centers on the Hoover family, a tribe enveloped in angst and chaos.
Richard, the father, is a floundering motivational speaker and the author of a non-published self-help book. Grandpa's been kicked out of his retirement home for using drugs and participating in various sexual dalliances. Uncle Frank's been dumped by his boyfriend and fired from his college teaching gig. Moody teenager, Dwayne, has taken a vow of silence. Frustrated mom, Sheryl, can do little more than try to keep the whole fragmented group together.
There is one ray of hope, the energetic Olive, who in spite of little talent and average looks, is runner-up in a regional children's beauty pageant, and is elevated to the holder of the crown when the winner withdraws. She has to go to California to compete in the national competition.
The penniless family sets off from New Mexico in grandpa's old Volkswagen bus on a cross-country trek, chasing the coveted title of "Little Miss Sunshine."
In the process of the trip, the bus breaks down and has to be constantly pushed to get the motor started. Olive is harassed by thoughts of the mean girls who she is going to be competing against at the pageant. Dwayne discovers he is color-blind and can't get into military flight school. Richard is informed by his agent that his book has been rejected by a potential publisher. Richard and Sheryl seem on the edge of not only bankruptcy but divorce. Frank accidently meets his ex-boyfriend at a rest stop. Grandpa dies and, since the hospital won't release the body until all the forms are filled out and their services paid for, the family steals the corpse and stores it in the bus's trunk. Olive does a striptease for her talent at the beauty pageant. (Honest! Could I make up such ridiculousness?)
Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism and where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them. Patrick Ciamacco, the theatre's artistic director, is a king of farce. He almost always brings out the best of the ridiculousness.
Unfortunately, Ciamacco did not direct "Little Mary Sunshine," and his lack of cherubic guidance shows.
The cast, under the misdirection by Jonathan Kronenberger, clearly illustrates the difficulty of farce. They not only over-react to the lines, but try too hard to make the whole thing funny, losing the farce and going into slapstick, and not even doing that well. Even the pacing is haphazard.
The band, under the direction of Patrick Wickliffe, needs to understand that they are not playing a rock concert and must underscore, not over-power the singing voices.
Poppy Wadenpfuhl is delightful as Olive. Derrick Winger displays a fine voice as Richard as does Kristin Netzband as Sheryl and Brian Altman as Frank. Antonio DeJusus is angst personified as Dwayne. Though singing is not his forte, Tim Tavcar is properly harassable as Grandpa.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: "Little Miss Sunshine" is not a great musical script nor does it have a strong score. The show's farcical nature is a challenge for any cast and director. In spite of a gallant effort, the Blank Canvas production just doesn't work as well as it could have.
"Little Miss Sunshine" runs through June 1, 2019 at Blank Canvas, 1305 West 78thStreet, Suite 211, Cleveland. For tickets and directions go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com//
Next up at Blank Canvas: "The Toxic Avenger," based on the Lloyd Kaufman's cult film sensation of the same name, the musical is a charming and funny love story about a mutant toxic hero, a beautiful girl and a corrupt New Jersey mayor.