When a musical using the Spice Girls songs was first rumored, the child in me perked his ears up and got pretty excited. The cynic in me said “What’s the story? How theatrical are these songs? Where’s the heart, the narrative?” to which my inner child responded by plugging his ears and singing “Wannabe” at the top of his lungs. Well, the musical has finally arrived in the form of Viva Forever! in London’s West End, so how are the hopes of my inner child and concerns of my inner cynic met?
Well first off, even my inner child and I had to admit that for as much as we loved the Spice Girls back in the day, there were really only two songs of theirs we could remember when pressed, and while their stage names and awesomely garish fashions were etched in our memories, nothing of who they were or what they were about really stuck. I think they were feminists, perhaps maybe? They said “Girl Power” a lot, at any rate, I can at least remember that much.
So my inner child doesn’t have a lot to really say for this musical. Both the songs he remembers are included so he’s pretty much content, which I guess means we have to see how well the cynic in me is pleased.
The musical is written by comedienne Jennifer Saunders, produced by Mamma Mia!‘s Judy Craymer, directed by Paul Garrington and centers on a girl named Viva. Viva enters a reality TV talent show with her friends, gets more attention than they do, and has to choose between friendship and fame. She also has to work out her relationship with her mother; although they are close, their relationship is put through the wringer as they both work out what’s best for Viva.
From what I’ve seen and read the show has some similarities to Mamma Mia! in both appearance and substance. Both shows utilize a mostly open stage with a round motif, concert-style lighting, and vibrant costumes. The trio of friends and the mother-daughter dynamic is also reminiscent of the ABBA musical but I think the reason I’m noticing the similarities between the two is mostly due to the fact that they are both jukebox musicals made from the catalogues of pop/dance groups. It’s not as if Mamma Mia! invented these aspects, but the already apparent link between the two shows makes the other similarities more obvious.
The critics have pretty much all panned the show, but audience reception seems to be a little warmer. Most of the complaints lodged by the critics (aside from the Mamma Mia! similarities) concern the book which they have mostly found to be slow, predictable, and peppered with too many references to twitter and other contemporary catchphrases. The problem with writing like this is that it becomes dated almost instantly. Chances are no one is going to be saying “Hashtag -whatever-” in the next ten years (or hell, even the next five most likely) so a show that incorporates such lingo into its script may seem fresh at first, but very quickly it will go stale before finally expiring.
While my inner cynic still has reservations about the show, I do hope it finds an audience and is successful enough to make its way stateside someday. So far I haven’t seen or heard enough of the show to really form a solid opinion on it; what with it being a jukebox musical, a cast recording probably won’t help me understand or appreciate the story so it’s one that I’m really going to have to see to evaluate. Even if it’s not exactly a “good” show, I still think I’d be able to enjoy it. I mean, if you can’t at least smile at this then there’s probably something missing in your soul:
Or you didn’t grow up in the 90’s. That could also be the case.