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Review Roundup: Did The Critics Fall In Love With SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE?


The show opens at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre - we round up the reviews

Review Roundup: Did The Critics Fall In Love With SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE?

SLEEPLESS: A MUSICAL ROMANCE began socially distanced indoor performances at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre on 25 August, and the show opened officially last night. Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness star as Annie and Sam respectively, with Daniel Casey as Walter, Harriet Thorpe as Eleanor, Tania Mathurin as Becky and Jake Sharp as Rob.

SLEEPLESS is a new musical with a book by Michael Burdette and music and lyrics by Robert Scott and Brendan Cull, directed by Morgan Young. It was originally due to begin performances on 24 March 2020, prior to the UK Government shutdown of theatres. A new accurate COVID-19 test is being used on the cast, musicians, crew and theatre staff on a daily basis during rehearsals and during the run of the show. The test is called FRANKD (Fast, Reliable, Accurate, Nucleic-based Kit for Covid19 Diagnostic Detection)

SLEEPLESS tells the heart-warming tale of Sam, who moves to Seattle with his ten-year-old son, Jonah, following the tragic death of his wife. When Jonah phones a radio show, Sam is forced to talk about his broken heart and sleepless nights live on air, and he suddenly finds himself one of the most sought after single men in America and a great news story for feisty journalist Annie on the opposite side of the country. Can Jonah bring the two together on the top deck of the Empire State Building? A fresh and lively book alongside a brand-new musical score bring this most timeless of romantic comedies to life on stage.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Laura Fuller, BroadwayWorld: Devotees of the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film will be pleased to know that the plot is true to the source material. The cast are largely strong and do a commendable job of breathing new life into a well-loved tale. Jay McGuiness produces a likeable and somewhat charismatic Sam, but his voice is perhaps a little weaker at times than the role requires. The more tender scenes with son Jonah are his best - displaying chemistry that, if not completely believable, is certainly engaging and touching. Kimberley Walsh gives a fair performance as Annie, who puts her faith in destiny. Unfortunately, while not for lack of effort, her performance overall feels underpowered and lacking in authenticity.

Matt Wolf, The New York Times: Both known for their work with pop groups, McGuiness and Walsh prove amiable team leaders in a show that can't help but feel like an also-ran. You leave "Sleepless" pleased that it happened, and restless for more and better theater to come.

Rosemary Waugh, The Stage: This musical version (book by Michael Burdette, lyrics by Brendan Cull) blunts many of the quirks and offbeat humour characterising Ephron's work. Walsh and McGuiness are both much more conventional leads than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks ever were. They're not a kooky couple, but they are a sweet one.

Clive Davis, The Times: We had to wear masks, and staff took our temperature. Still, all the safety procedures in the world couldn't dampen the excitement. Morgan Young's handsome production - built around songs by the British duo of composer Robert Scott and lyricist Brendan Cull - strips away the cloying sentimentality of the film and delivers a string of stylish, jazzy numbers that have all the poise of a Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh collaboration.

Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: I feel compelled to proclaim the valiance of the producers - especially Brits Michael Rose and Damien Sanders - who have persisted, with the tenacity of mountaineers dangling over a crevasse, after Covid killed off their planned March opening. They also paying through the nose for a raft of measures, not least ensuring the company and crew are Covid-tested every day (which allows for near-normalcy on stage). But just as passion throws calculation out of the window, so here, the romantic gesture is the thing: rekindling everyone's love for live performance and showing what's possible if you put your mind to it.

Arifa Akbar, Guardian: You look dashing enough - Morgan Large's set niftily revolves between Sam's houseboat in Seattle and Annie's home and office in Baltimore and it creates a lovely intimacy, despite the size of the stage. But your mood seems sedate and your pace is decidedly sleepy at times. The mist of grey light that lingers across the stage isn't doing you any favours, either. Yes, you have a lovely live jazz orchestra but the songs by Robert Scott and Brendon Cull are bland and the jazz sounds like cruise liner entertainment at times.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: The set is wittily architectural. And there is something mad and brilliant about turning an American classic film into a musical in a big shed in Wembley in the middle of a pandemic. It is a joy to watch McGuiness take Walsh's hand and whirl her around in the finale. Such a simple act: so affecting now.

Marianka Swain, theartsdesk: Though the size and layout of the Troubadour means it can easily accommodate a socially distanced audience of 400 (down from 1,300), the flipside is that it's challenging to land the "com" of this romcom. Unfortunately, many jokes fall flat, even though the show doesn't stray too far from Nora Ephron's film. Making it clearer that this is a period piece would help, given the somewhat retrograde gender politics; one of the better gags is Annie's bewilderment when boyfriend Walter suggests she use a new-fangled computer to work from home. Imagine!

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: For all the cleverness of its writing and construction, the show never finds a big romantic song to express the feelings of its main protagonists. Or rather it does - but it gives it to Annie's mum Eleanor, when she muses about how her husband said her name, which is terrifically and passionately sung by Harriet Thorpe.

Matt Wolf, New York Times: Michael Burdette's book takes its lead from Nora Ephron's Oscar-nominated screenplay, at times running certain references into the ground. It's fine to present Annie, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, as a film buff with an abiding interest in the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr film "An Affair to Remember," to which Ephron's film owes a debt. But it's unclear why Annie really needs to sing of her love for Grant - just as it's hard to believe that so avid a film buff would debate the pronunciation of Kerr's last name.

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