Wednesday 1 May 2013

Viva Forever @ The Piccadilly Theatre

On paper, a musical using the songs of the Spice Girls seems like a good idea.  In reality, the girls are best known for their personalities and representation of girl power rather than having an impressive back catalogue.  Sadly, Viva Forever contains little of the feisty attitude the girls exuded.  Even the union jack dress only makes a brief appearance during the bows.

The problem is that the three albums the Spice Girls released are filled with simplistic pop songs that lack the emotional weight and dramatic impetus to sustain a full musical.  Often, the songs are inappropriate for the situations they are shoehorned into (Say You'll Be There), or are meaninglessly executed (Spice Up Your Life).  Although the show does include some lesser known tracks, ultimately it relies too heavily on a small handful of repeated hits and even delves into Geri Halliwell's back catalogue for extra material.  Moreover, the arrangements are dated, transporting us back to the late 90s to relive our youth, but adding nothing new.

The book, written by Jennifer Saunders, is full of tired Ab Fab humour, cheap sex gags and laboured dialogue.  The contrived plot is Mamma Mia meets Dreamgirls: a girl group enters an X-Factor style talent contest, only for one of the girls to be chosen as a solo artist before the truth about her adoption is revealed on national television.  Frustratingly, the show doesn't offer a true finale, instead settling for the obligatory jukebox medley, leaving the denouement falling flat - let alone the numerous points suddenly dropped or left unexplored.  Not only is the plot predictable, but the unsubtle parallels to X-Factor are obvious and unoriginal.  Saunders is clearly having a dig at manufactured pop and celebrity culture - which is ironic when the Spice Girls themselves were a manufactured band and have become huge celebrities in their own right.

This could almost be forgiven, but the singing is patchy at best.  Hannah John-Kamen lacks star quality as bland protagonist Viva, whilst the better singers (namely Siobhan Atwal's energetic Luce, Ben Cura's Spanish love-interest Angel and Lucy Montgomery's hilarious Suzi) are underused in minor roles.  The principal actors have fun with the two-dimensional characters, such as Hatty Preston's Minty, but some chorus members perform the choreography a little half-heartedly.  The singing also wasn't helped by some uneven sound levels.

Yet taking off the critical hat, for all its flaws Viva Forever is nothing more than lighthearted fun.  And, in its revised form, it's far from the car-crash that many early reviews depicted.  It might not be a clever or spectacular hommage to the Spice Girls, but it's an enjoyable evening of girl power.  At the least, you'll never hear 2 Become 1 in the same way.


Watch: Viva Forever is performing at the Piccadilly Theatre until June, ticket information on the show website.

Tickets kindly provided by Superbreak.  For information on their theatre packages and London breaks, visit their website: