It took a critical mauling from the popular press on opening night and despite undergoing a major revamp; lukewarm reviews saw the announcement at the start of May that the new Spice Girl’s-inspired musical Viva Forever! would close at the end of June. We dispatched our intrepid showbiz reporter (her words), Kirsten Beacock, to see why the show turned out to be merely a West End “Wannabe” and why it won’t be around (Viva) forever.
“All you need is positivity” – Spice Up Your Life – Spice Girls
When Sporty, Scary, Posh, Baby and Ginger first burst onto the pop-scene in 1996, the charts were filled with guitar-led bands like Oasis and Blur and most people didn’t rate their career chances. But by the sheer force of their combined personalities, a winning “Girl Power” catchphrase and catchy, feel-good songs;- they were transformed into a world-wide phenomenon, transcending the music industry to become global icons in their own right. However unlike the other current West End musical about a band – The Jersey Boys, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in an autobiographical sense, the Spice Girls’ inspired Viva Forever! took the Mamma Mia! approach, in terms of using the band’s songs to tell a brand new story.
“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want” – Wannabe – Spice Girls
“Starmaker” – a not-too heavily disguised X-Factor style programme - creates the basis for Jennifer (Absolutely Fabulous) Saunders’ sharply-worded script which cleverly weaves in the pop hits of the Spice Girls (and even a sneaky solo single from Geri!). The story begins with a four-girl group, “Eternity” being put through to the final rounds of the talent show. However in a “shock” twist, the groups mentor and judge, Simone (Sharon Osbourne-esque), demands live-on-air that the quietest member of the group, Viva, must bin her friends and go solo, or be booted out of the competition with the rest of the group. The other main strand of the plot is the revelation that Viva is adopted (information cruelly used by the shows production team to boost viewers (would never happen in real life…ahem) – which leads to much soul-searching by adopted-mum Lauren (a moving performance by Sally Ann Triplett) and a will she/won’t she cliffhanger as to whether Viva will find her real mum or learn to appreciate the one she has and be reunited with her former bandmates.
Ok, so plot-wise it is a little thin. There is a brief romance for Viva that kind of comes from nowhere - almost as an excuse to use the title-track, and unlike the unparalleled brilliance of Abba; stripped away from the Spice Girls exuberant delivery, their song lyrics are a little weak. But there is no denying that this is a very different animal to a lot of the other West End shows, from the multi-media start to the clever use on on-stage camera’s to capture the “behind-the-scenes” reality side of TV stardom. The opening number “Wannabe” gives the show a strong and energetic start, which carries right through the incredible high-octane finale that saw people leap to their feet and dance to a mad-cap medley of the Spice Girl’s hits (with Lauren even donning THAT Union Jack dress).
“Hasta mañana, always be mine” – Viva Forever – Spice Girls
For me, the highlight was some cracking comedic performances, particularly from Simone’s assistant Minty (Hatty Preston channelling a cross between Ab Fab’s Bubbles and Catherine Tate) and Lauren’s best friend Suzi (Lucy Montgomery) – in two scene-stealing performances. Both performers clearly relishing the one-liners written by Saunders and both providing a huge-number of laugh-out loud moments (an example of which was Minty having to google last years winner of Starmaker – a cutting comment on the fleeting nature of fame). The surreal use of the song “2Become1″ to highlight a twilight romance was hilarious and I have never seen anyone receive a fake tan before (Tamara Wall’s ditsy celebrity judge, Karen) during a routine to “Look at Me”.
Although not boasting the strongest plot (and some of the narrative seemed more designed to shoehorn songs in), the audience certainly took the show to its hearts, with lots of laughing, clapping and cheering. Despite the show’s shortcomings the production is fun, flirty and full of energy (much like the original band), and while it might not have the gravitas of say a Les Mes or the sheer star-power of Mamma Mia, it is a musical that is instantly recognisable to anyone living in the 21st Century. Is it the best musical I have ever seen? Clearly not. But more than 150,000 people have seen the show so far and a huge amount of those in the audience have been extremely positive. Either way why not “Say You’ll Be There” and make your own mind up about the musical by catching Viva Forever! in its last few weeks
What the audience thought:
“I was cynical, but then realised an hour had passed and I hadn’t wanted to check my phone once. So lets give praise where praise is due… A good, fun evening of entertainment – pure & true – and that’s one of the lyrics I learnt last night. An education as well as entertainment.” - Clementine, 29, Producer & performer from London
“Tonight’s show has brought back fond childhood memories of dance routines and girl power!” – Jess, 26, from Slough
And from our Twitter competition ticket winner:
I just wanted to say thank you very much. It was cheesy sure, but a lot of fun.” – David Mitchell
Getting there: Viva Forever! is hosted by the Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman Street, London, W1D 7DY. The nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus, however it is also within easy walking distance of Leicester Square and Oxford Circus tube stations.
Buying tickets – available until June 29th: There is a host of ticketing options for Viva Forever! A popular package has been a two-course meal at Planet Hollywood along with a ticket for only £25, For the same price you can visit the Chinese restaurant, Cha Cha Moon, and enjoy two courses before the show. Fancy splashing out – why not go for champagne and canapés with Jewel Bar in Piccadilly with a slightly more expensive ticket at £45. Maybe you fancy a free afternoon tea at The Cavendish Hotel included in the ticket price. Or if it is a really special occasion our top price seat at £67.50 includes a free meal at Petrichor at The Cavendish Hotel. If you just want a ticket to the show, there are plenty of options, with top price seats currently at £42.50 down from £73.60 for Monday to Thursday evenings and Friday matinees.
Sad to see the demise of Viva Forever!? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.