The Theatreguide.London Review
Piccadilly Theatre 2012 - 2013
A musical built on the songs of the Spice Girls was the brainchild of Judy Craymer, the producer behind Mamma Mia. Will Viva Forever run for decades and make trillions worldwide? Probably not. Does that mean it's bad? Not at all.
Viva Forever is a perfectly solid good-night-out musical that will delight Spice Girl fans and offer enjoyable entertainment even to those who don't come in knowing all the songs by heart.
If it has a limitation it is that the songs themselves (most by some or all of the Spice Girls with various collaborators) aren't as catchy or memorable as the ABBA songs of Mamma Mia – the Spice Girls were always more about image and 'girl power' than musicality.
Jennifer Saunders has written a book that makes at least as much sense as most musical plots – a girl group is appearing in an X-Factor-like TV competition when backstage machinations among the judges lead to one of them, Viva, being offered the chance to go on as a single.
Will Viva drop her mates to further her career? Will she get caught up and destroyed by the fame machine? Will the ageing ex-diva judge who is her mentor become a kind of stage mother, trying to relive her faded glory through her protégée? Will Viva win the competition and become a star?
Or will just about every plot loose end be left hanging as the final scene gives up any attempt at story telling and morphs into a song-and-dance concert of those songs Jennifer Saunders couldn't fit into the script?
Along the way the songs, or at least the twenty or so chosen by Jennifer Saunders, prove to have a dramatic and emotional quality that allows them to be slotted into the story with little difficulty.
'Say You'll Be There' is the group's split-up, 'Look At Me' is sung by the judges in their make-up chairs, 'Too Much' expresses the regrets of Viva's mother and her best friend that they didn't have the chances the kids have. ('Wannabe' and the other real biggies are saved for the extended finale and encores.)
Hannah John-Kamen is fine as Viva without putting any real mark on the role, and if you happen to see one of the understudies I doubt that you'll miss much. The dramatic and musical weight of the show is ably carried by Sally Ann Triplett as Viva's mother and Sally Dexter as her mentor, each of them bringing solid professionalism, strong singing and unexpected character depth to their roles.
Finally, this is one show in which you may be particularly glad that the performers are all amplified, because that gives them a fighting chance of being heard above the large segment of the audience who enthusiastically sing along with every song, even the most dramatic and intimate.
It is always a good thing when new audiences are attracted to the theatre, but more conventional theatregoers must be prepared to be surrounded by constant chattering, texting, singing along, whooping, wandering in and out, and Panto-like shouting back at the stage by groups, mainly young and female, who have spent some time in the bar before the show began.
There's no point in fighting it – this is their way of having a good time, and they outnumber you.
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Review - Viva Forever! - Piccadilly Theatre 2012