Sleepless in Seattle apparently had a budget of $21 million and box office takings of $227.9 million – the profit margin for Sleepless: A Musical Romance, its theatrical adaptation, is not going to be anywhere near that. Indeed, a note in the programme pulls no punches, making it plain that with social distancing in place, revenue from the substantially reduced capacity means putting on this production “makes no financial sense at all”. Top marks for effort, then, that this is happening at Stage 4 of the Government’s roadmap to reopening, while theatre-makers and patrons alike eagerly await a possible date for Stage 5.
The delivery style of many (but by no means all) of the musical numbers is quite measured. I’m not sure whether this is partly because of Covid-related restrictions – a recent study concluded that while singing is no riskier than talking on stage, it is riskier if someone does either more loudly. There are, I hasten to add, a few belters in the mix, particularly the Act One closer, ‘Things I Didn’t Do’ and before it, ‘Some Things You Just Know’.
But not having what I call the ‘hairdryer treatment’ vocally throughout allows for microphones to be used in the way that just seems right for a production of this nature. With most of the songs and spoken dialogue taking place in settings that where people wouldn’t ordinarily shout at one another – a front room, a bedroom, an office, a kitchen, a hotel room, and so on – characters are communicating at a highly realistic volume level. It’s just that the theatre’s sound systems allow everyone to hear every word. You could say it’s like, well, watching a movie.
There are, broadly speaking, two categories of audience members attending Sleepless – those who have seen the motion picture, and those who haven’t. Anyone in the latter category can rest assured that they will be able to follow proceedings without any prior knowledge of the story, whilst those who recall the movie will find plenty of familiarity.
The show takes a while to get going, but patience is rewarded for those who like a bit of razzmatazz at the theatre, as the second half is sprightlier than the first. ‘Now or Never’ sees Jonah (Jobe Hart at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Theo Collins, Mikey Colville and Jack Reynolds) and Rob (Cory English) bring the house down with energetic dance moves, a jazz hands ending and a reprise. Jay McGuiness, who plays Jonah’s father Sam, performs brilliantly but the Strictly Come Dancing winner’s dancing abilities are somewhat underutilised.
It’s an unlikely success story as a musical, constrained as it is by a narrative that dictates that the (eventual) central love interests, Sam and Annie (Kimberley Walsh), spend a considerable amount of time with respective significant others, Victoria (Charlie Bull) and Walter (Daniel Casey) respectively.
That said, the story’s ending lends itself well to musical theatre. The musical numbers drive the narrative forward – never a bad thing as it means the audience isn’t left waiting for a song to finish before the plot can resume.
The likes of Annie’s senior colleague Becky (Tania Mathurin) and Annie’s mother Eleanor (Harriet Thorpe) possess good stage presence, which is just as well given there’s more exposition in the stage show than in the motion picture. A lovely harmony trio musical number, ‘Dear Sleepless’, sung by Leanne Garretty, Charlie Bull and Dominique Planter, was delightful. Chris Walker directs an orchestra of twelve magnificently. The staging is worth pointing out, too, for its excellent use of backdrops and a revolve. How do you portray the observation deck of the Empire State Building (1,250 feet above street level) on stage convincingly? You’ll have to see it to find out. Not quite ‘Weepy in Wembley’ – it has its poignant moments, but I left the theatre with a smile on my face.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness star as Annie and Sam respectively, with Daniel Casey as Walter, Harriet Thorpe as Eleanor, Tania Mathurin as Becky and Jake Sharp as Rob. SLEEPLESS is directed by Morgan Young and produced by Michael Rose, Encore Theatre Productions Ltd, David Shor and Marc Toberoff.
SLEEPLESS is a new musical with a book by Michael Burdette and music and lyrics by new British writers Robert Scott and Brendan Cull and will feature a 12-piece jazz orchestra. It was originally due to begin performances on 24 March 2020, prior to the UK Government shutdown of theatres.
A new accurate COVID-19 test is being used on the cast, musicians, crew and theatre staff on a daily basis during rehearsals and during the run of the show. The test is called FRANKD (Fast, Reliable, Accurate, Nucleic-based Kit for Covid19 Diagnostic Detection).
SLEEPLESS tells the heart-warming tale of Sam, who moves to Seattle with his ten-year-old son, Jonah, following the tragic death of his wife. When Jonah phones a radio show, Sam is forced to talk about his broken heart and sleepless nights live on air, and he suddenly finds himself one of the most sought after single men in America and a great news story for feisty journalist Annie on the opposite side of the country. Can Jonah bring the two together on the top deck of the Empire State Building? A fresh and lively book alongside a brand-new musical score bring this most timeless of romantic comedies to life on stage.
SLEEPLESS, A Musical Romance
25 August – 27 September 2020
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre
3 Fulton Rd
London HA9 0SP
Booking until 27 September 2020