It seems that most of the stage shows I discuss on my blog recently started their life as a film, but that's a trend I don't see changing any time soon. In the case of the well-loved film "Little Miss Sunshine" - one would assume a movie about a road trip would make for a difficult musical. James Lapine and William Finn (with huge credits to both of their names) have attacked that task and given us a fun-filled evening at Second Stage Theatre (in a limited run production that has already been extended). The show had an out-of-town tryout and then if rumors are correct, was almost completely rewritten before finding its way to New York.
I'm a huge fan of William Finn. I've actually performed in several of his musicals including Falsettos, A New Brain, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee...his is a musical voice that is incredible to my ears. I do know everyone does not completely agree with my assessment of his work. Many feel Finn writes more sung dialogue than songs and at times - that is true. While I hear pieces of earlier works of his in this, I wanted more to turn into full songs so the characters could soar. That said, I still enjoyed what he has done and I'm sure if I saw it again, I'd find myself singing the "Something Better" theme. James Lapine has done a nice job of opening the movie up with his book and direction. Throwing out the idea of having a mini-bus on the stage for this cross-country trek, he instead uses chairs with wonderful chair-ography throughout the show. We also never feel the cast is 'stuck on the bus' in the way he has staged it.
I'm a fan of the small, ensemble musicals and this one falls right in line with the 6 family members on the road and another seven people to fill out other roles. Hannah Nordberg is wonderful as Olive, the little girl that wants to compete so badly in the little miss sunshine beauty contest that this dysfunctional family decides to drive from New Mexico to California. Hannah has great timing on stage and such an adorable quality that I found myself watching her when she wasn't even speaking - yet she was always acting. I'm sure NY will see this California girl again after this show. Her parents (played by the incredibly gifted Stephanie J. Block and the usually charming Will Swenson) are at odds with each other throughout the show, but we get a flashback not written in the movie to give these actors and the audience a connection. I say usually charming Will Swenson because the character of Richard isn't so charming, so putting Mr. Swenson in this role felt like a stretch. Yet sitting directly in front of him in the front row, I watched as he had such nuances in his face when not speaking that he felt every moment happening around him with his family and wore the pain and responsibility in a profound way. When Ms. Block gets a chance to truly sing...man I love her voice.
The actor I was most impressed with was Rory O'Malley playing the role of uncle Frank. I had only seen him in The Book of Mormon and never knew the depth he had an an actor. What a great performance he gives as the gay uncle that has to live with the family because of his attempted suicide. He also has some wonderful vocal moments (I say moments as there was no song list in the playbill for the preview that I saw). The grandfather that has no problem speaking his mind and teaches Olive dance routines is played by David Rasche (though I wish his character's big song had more than one joke in it) and the brother that has taken a vow to stop speaking is served well by Logan Rowland.
I must also give a shout out to two actors I love to tweet with that play several small roles and bring humor to every moment they are on stage. Wesley Taylor (yes, I love his web series and have written about it on Huffington Post) and Josh Lamon are both hysterical. And Jennifer Sanchez rounds out this great ensemble with four younger pageant girls.
The musical officially opens this week and I'll be watching to see what critics say about this new musical. I'm not certain where the creators plan to go with it. Off-Broadway is certainly the place for it as I don't see it being a Broadway show, but I can certainly see regional theaters grabbing it up as soon as rights become available.