Viva Forever! was one of the most highly anticipated new shows to hit town this year with fans on the verge of selling their own mothers to get a ticket. There was so much hype surrounding the Spice Girls jukebox musical, and with such a built-in fan base, chances of success were high. For the cast and creative team, that is exactly what they wanted, what they really really wanted, but I suspect what they didn’t want is the scathing response from the theatre critics on opening night.
The reviews are in for Viva Forever! and they’re not pretty. The critics have united to bomb all over the musical; the only way they could have made their point any clearer was to drop an actual bomb and ride it down through a glittering explosion of big, fat, red ‘X’s’ in the sky. The Stage was not a fan of the show’s characters, describing them as: “sketchy caricatures or stereotypes, however hard the cast attempts to give them substance.” The Telegraph faulted the direction of the musical’s plot, calling it a: “A fatuous show with nothing fresh to say about popular culture and our fixation with fame,” while The Guardian pinned the blame for the show’s problems on the shoulders of the Spice Girls’ back-catalogue, saying that, with the exception of the girl band’s few decent songs, the show was: “forced to rely on pretty vapourous album tracks such as ‘Right Back At Ya’ and, at one panic-inducing moment, delve into the solo oeuvre of Geri Halliwell.”
The main beef seems to be with the book and actual staging of the show, rather than the cast, with The Independent lamenting that: “A talented cast are let down by a clichéd plot and leaden dialogue.” They went on to sum up the general consensus of the critics with the line: “Viva Forever? More like clapped-out Vauxhall Viva, five careless owners with far too many miles on the clock.” Ouch!
I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of jukebox musicals. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I’ve usually found them to be based around a weak plotline and over-reliant on the catalogue of songs to carry them through. For this reason, I wasn’t too hopeful about the chances of Viva Forever! Reality talent shows have been done to death – Ben Elton’s book Chart Throb and the big-screen film American Dreamz (starring Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore) are both examples of the satirising of reality shows such as American Idol and The X-Factor. In relation to the latter, I know of many people who have tuned out and don’t want to watch any longer as they have become sick of the whole thing – myself included. Deciding to mould the songs of the Spice Girls around a reality talent show was a move that I thought might lead to a tired, uninspired story, and judging by the comments in these reviews, that’s just what has happened. It also seems that the songs weren’t strong enough to hold up the musical on their own. Being a teenage girl when the Spice Girls first appeared on the scene, I was right in their targeted demographic. I loved the girl band and spent many hours in the bedroom with my friends singing into hairbrushes. I don’t agree with the critics’ opinion that there is a lack of memorable hits to fill two hours of musical theatre – the girls seemed to manage to fill two hours just fine in their sold-out concert dates. I think they perhaps just needed to be performed in the right environment and sadly, it doesn’t appear as if Jennifer Saunders’ book is it.
Of course, just because the reviews were less than glowing, it doesn’t mean that Viva Forever! should start thinking about closing the curtain yet. A show isn’t doomed by the icy death touch of the theatre critics. The West End’s two longest-running shows, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera were savagely panned by critics when they first opened for instance, and We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages serve as perfect examples of jukebox musicals who have survived the critics’ ‘thumbs-down’. Viva Forever! has a legion of Spice Girls fans supporting it and may well go on to defy the critics and become a West End hit. Ticket sales are already in excess of £4 million and there are plenty of audience members who have seen the show and had positive things to say, such as these twitter users:
“#VivaForever has cemented my love for Jennifer Saunders… Hilarious characters and unashamed X-Factor mickey taking!” – @Holly_PJ
“Can’t get over how amazing #vivaforever was last night! The medley at the end was everything” – @hausofrianna
“Don’t believe the reviewers on #vivaforever. Needs more work but I saw audience have great night tonight.” – @steve1anderson
I haven’t been to see Viva Forever! so I wouldn’t like to pass judgement as it would be based on nothing but unsubstantiated preconceptions and hearsay. I’m very interested to know what you think of the theatre critics reviews though, and would especially like to hear from those who have seen the show to find out what their experience of it was. As Viva Forever! hits the ‘Headlines’, will it be ‘Goodbye’ for the show or will it be shown that, as far as the fans are concerned, the musical will ‘Wannabe’ in the West End for a long time to come?
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 13th December 2012