The Spice Girls, oh what a history I have with these wonderful women and before I continue onwards with this review, I figure I should share that history because Jennifer Saunders has already had a go at critics by calling them “Old middle aged men” two of the reviewers included in that sweeping generalisation were women.... So much for girl power!
As a kid I was dragged up on amateur theatricals and the west end stage, I knew more about musicals than anything else; to be fair I didn’t even know about pop singles until I was dragged into a record shop by a friend and told to listen to “This”.... This being Wannabe by The Spice Girls, it was love at first note. Pop music was in my soul and the Spice Girls would be part of my life even to this day.
In 2005 I spent the summer following Melanie C round the UK on the awesome Beautiful Intentions tour, it was the best year of my life and I actually left the country to follow her across the sea making some great friends as a result. I spent two nights in 2007 at the O2 being part of The Reunion Tour and after that I was nabbing time with Mel B at Loose Women and Melanie C at Shepherd’s Bush where she put on the gig of her life! It was amazing. The legacy wasn’t just about Girl Power, it enthused boys and girls around the world and still does today which is why this review is a difficult one to write.
Just so Lady Saunders can’t slate me for what follows, I review stuff in my own time, I don’t get paid for it, I have no commercial affiliation with other musicals and the musicals I’ve seen in the past?
Wicked, Sunset Blvd, Phantom Of The Opera, Love Never Dies, Sherlock Holmes, Little Shop of Horrors, Legally Blonde, Fame, Me and My Girl, Annie Warbucks, By Jeeves, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Blood Brothers (Various Leading ladies including Melanie C!), Someone Like You, Oliver, Mame, Sweeney Todd, Into the woods, Avenue Q, Copacabana, Anything Goes, Aspects of Love, Piaf, Beauty and the Beast, Cats, Follies, Guys and Dolls, 42nd Street, Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat, Mack and Mabel, Rent, Lion King, Buddy, Pickwick, Ghost, Martin Guerre, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Evil Dead, Robert and Elizabeth...
That’s not including the musical movies that seep in to my life as well.
Viva Forever tells the story of four young women thrown into the world of talent shows on reality TV. In an obvious piss take of the X-Factor these four best friends are forced to make a terrible decision as one of their group is plucked out of the line up and told she can go home with the rest of the group or continue on as a solo act.
This is the story of Viva’s rise to fame through the beast that is reality TV, will she remain true to herself or allow the manufactured world around her change her forever?
Oh dear, Viva forever the Musical based on the songs of The Spice Girls. The night started off well, we arrived to pick up tickets to the cheap seats but ended up being upgraded to the front three rows of the Dress Circle. Things were looking up until the curtain rose and Viva Forever proceeded to take a wrecking ball to all the glorious memories of seeing the Spice Girls at Wembley Arena, the O2, rushing to the Woolworths when Spiceworld the second album was released or sitting in the cinema and watching Spiceworld The Movie for the first time. I even collected the damn ring pulls off Pepsi cans and sent them away to get the Step To Me CD single... not to mention banging the side of my TV relentlessly trying to see a certain intro to a brand new TV channel that had launched... I was a Spice Boy through and through.
To say I was both excited and scared for what I was about to encounter was an understatement, even The Return Tour knew it had to lead the audience in to what it was about to see but because of the lack of imagination when it came to both the book and musical arrangements for Viva Forever, we were thrown directly into a curtain going up and an ensemble convulsing on stage to Wannabe. The first impression was meant to be terrible due to opening on the audition stage of Starmaker so that the four girls could come out and be fantastic, which they were but first impressions are everything.
With the use of LED screens around the stage it would have been great to have seen the four girls in question open the show with a high octane version of Wannabe or Spice Up Your Life and then have the screens issue a “5 months earlier” as the girls are swallowed into the ensemble as they perform in the audition stages of Starmaker.
Unfortunately, little fixes like that cannot save this show which appears to have been formed of a vomit fest from both Craymer and Saunders which they mixed up in a pot creating a bastard hybrid of Mamma Mia and Absolutely Fabulous!
Viva Forever is a Spice Girls musical lacking in Spice. The foundation of the Spice movement has been hard work, confidence and fun. Here Saunders creates a story where everything that’s wrong with shows like the X-Factor is the vehicle for success. The show could have easily started out with Viva being given the ultimatum and then choosing her friends over the fame, WORKING to reach their goal of stardom the way the Spice Girls worked their way to the top. The show implies that if you can’t make it on a show like X-Factor/Starmaker, you’ll never make it at all which for these young actresses and the people on the stage is wrong because they are on A WEST END STAGE, they made it through work, confidence and determination, something this show doesn’t impart on the audience at any point what so ever.
The cast weren’t only limited by the book created by Saunders but also the musical arrangements which at times had lyrics altered into an awkwardly shuffled mess. There’s a moment where Say You’ll Be There takes centre stage but to be fair Melanie C’s “Never Be The Same Again” would have slotted in for a more honest interpretation of the feelings the girls at that point in time were trying to convey.
The arrangements here aren’t challenging at all, there were moments where the odd song appeared to fit into place perfectly but the majority of the time, they just felt like Craymer and Saunders had jigsaw puzzles and were jamming pieces into the wrong hole until they were so battered and mashed that they suddenly found a place but the result is all wrong!
Just when you think there is no joy to be had from Viva Forever, in comes a lovely mash up of Goodbye and Mama, however Viva Forever doesn’t take long to lash on the disappointment once again as it brings in “Headlines” to top off this lovely little mash up.
With Musicals on the West End like Phantom and Wicked; fans look forward to cast changes as it reinvigorates the show and gives a whole now perspective to the characters. In Viva Forever the characters are as manufactured as the fake reality show they appear in, meaning that anyone stepping into the shoes of this very talented cast will find themselves being asked to mimic the performance that came before. There may be room for small nuances but the relationships are so ‘connect the dots’ in Viva Forever that there’s no room for growth as a performer...
Not that I would know since I’d be too poop scared to get on that stage night after night, I’m a geek who likes entertainment, not partaking in it!
The Cast; each and every cast member is talented despite the score leading them to the odd bum note. Viva played by Hanna John-Kamen was gorgeous and on the ball when it came to the numbers requiring more power vocally. She works well in contrast to the other girls who really don’t play as big a role as they should because Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Lucy Phelps and Siobhan Athwal really do add flavour to the ‘group’.
Sally Ann Triplett plays Viva’s mother, you might recognise her from Mamma Mia and you might also realise that her friend Suzi played by Lucy Montgomery is also a Mamma Mia template lifted out of one musical and placed in to this one! Both women do their best to make the comedic genius of Jennifer Saunders work although in this case, the Saunders flair for wit and style that I grew up with in French and Saunders specials has long since past.
The woman I loved but felt for the most was Sally Dexter who played the Sharon Osborne parody, Simone. Here’s a talented woman with vocals that were pitched low and renditions of album fillers like DO IT that just didn’t suit her vocal stylings. She didn’t struggle, she had no need to struggle but Simone as a character is Cruella DeVille. Sally was wonderful to watch in the parts she was allowed to shine but the show in itself is a massacre of The Spice Girls legacy.
The music may be cheesy pop but at one point millions connected with the message and had Saunders taken a risk on a grittier story with arrangements that truly challenged the audience then maybe just maybe Viva Forever would be deserving of attention. Right now as it stands, Viva Forever has to have been the worst theatrical experience I have ever attended!
The West End stage can be a Starmaker in itself but thanks to Jennifer Saunders and Judy Craymer, Viva Forever is the musical where souls, spirit and careers come to die!
Viva Forever is a stain on the Spice Girls legacy and the legacy of British Musical Theatre, please let this die on the West End.
The only people who could truly love Viva Forever are the die hard Spice Girls fans, I’m not talking about the fans who try to meet their idols once in a life time, I’m talking about the ones who like the ghost in The Grudge, are always there lurking behind these women at public events... the ones who never let them rest on twitter, the ones who sit outside their homes holding weird stalky vigils... them or a hen party already half way to a hang over!
The only redeeming feature was the encore, not because the musical was over but because FINALLY the music had found itself once again in it's (almost) original arrangements.
As a Spice fan I’ll be sticking with the real thing, solo or together... Friendship never ends!
I still love you Jennifer Saunders but ‘Tell Me Why’...