Theater Review - Little Miss Sunshine (NY)

I loved the film “Little Miss Sunshine.” Written by Michael Arndt, it was quirky and charming and featured Alan Arkin, the most remarkable American actor of our time. He played the Grandpa of a little girl named Olive, who dreams of winning the Miss Sunshine award; the first to do so from New Mexico. Grandpa has been kicked out of a senior citizen home for bad behavior, but spends his time teaching Olive a routine of singing and dancing. Her dysfunctional family supports her by driving her in a broken-down bus the many, many miles to California for the competition. Making this into a musical is Director James Lapine, who has written many Books and William Finn, a great composer. He has written the music and lyrics here, which are less than felicitous. Moreover, this show follows a disturbing pattern that seems to be emerging more and more. There are children starring but the subject matter is really not for children. There are songs created for the show but none are listed in the Playbill. There is also always a gay character whose life problems seems to overwhelm the main plot. In this case, Grandpa, played by David Rasche, snorts drugs and sings a tasteless song to his teenage grandson, Dwayne, black-haired Logan Rowland, entitled “Sex,” in which he insists that if he has it, he will be cured. (Grandpa dies suddenly and they cat his body around like “Loot”.) Dwayne has not spoken in 85 days; he is waiting for permission to join the Air Force Academy. His parent, Sheryl, the sturdy Stephanie Block, and Richard (Will Swenson), can’t afford to send him there. He has been spending his money on working on a ten-step program instead of getting a job. Then there is Sheryl’s brother, Frank, a very good Rory O’Malley, who has slit his wrists in a suicide attempt because his male lover left him for another. Olive is supposed to be chubby. In this part, Hannah Nordberg is tiny, not an ounce of fat on her, so when they tell her she can’t ice cream, it is just plain silly. But she is talented. And so are the three little girls who play her competitors; as they pop up from the floor, they remind me of the chorus in “The Little Shop of Horrors.” The scenic and projection design by Beowolf Boritt is really clever. The road soars from the stage and on to the sky above the audience. The yellow bus is made of chairs which the cast pushes around in many configurations. Kudos to Michele Lynch for her creative choreography. There are some funny lines; but in the long run “Little Miss Sunshine” is smarmy.

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