Viva Forever: Review Roundup

Lucy Phelps, Hannah
John-Kamen, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, and Siobhan Athwal

The new jukebox musical Viva Forever, based on the music of the Spice Girls, has received scathing reviews for its West End premiere at the Piccadilly. The creative team includes Jennifer Saunders (book), Paul Garrington (direction), Lynne Page (choreography), John Donovan (music direction), Peter McKintosh (sets, costumes), Howard Harrison (lights), Bobby Aitken (sound), Toby James (video), and Martin Koch (addl. material). The cast includes Hanna John-Kamen (Viva), Sally-Ann Triplett (Lauren), Sally Dexter (Simone), Lucy Montgomery (Suzi), Dominique Provost-Chalkely (Holly), Lucy Phelps (Diamond), Siobhan Athwal (Luce), Simon Slater (Mitch), Bill Ward (Johnny), Hatty Preston (Minty), Simon Adkins (Leon), Ben Cura (Angel), and Tamara Wall (Karen).

David Benedict (Variety): As one of the girls says in the opening scene, “The judges thought we were a mess and frankly I agree.” … There’s barely a surprise all night despite scenes of mother-daughter argument/affection dotted along the way. Saunders’ much-loved specialty is sketch and character-writing. Her lack of experience in long-form writing is painfully clear. The satire is as lazy as it is seriously second-hand. … The chief problem, however, is that the Spice Girls songs, however bouncy and fun, don’t offer up dramatic potential. In terms of lyrics, they’re mostly slogans, ceaselessly repeated. … The future does not look bright.

Quentin Letts (Daily Mail): What a disappointment. The Spice Girls were fun. … So how come this new musical featuring the group’s songs is so drudgy, so sour and focused on failure? … We are introduced to four (not five) teenage girls who have formed a group called Eternity. The show opens with them having made it into a TV talent show. … One of the girls, Viva (Hannah John-Kamen, an underwhelming heroine), is peeled away from her comrades and becomes famous. So much for Girl Power. … Fans looking for a good bop may be frustrated by the brevity (and at times sparsity) of the musical interludes. The thing only really starts to boil in the finale’s medley of Spice Girl hits.

Miranda Sawyer (Guardian): Several of the songs are better than you remember, especially “Spice Up Your Life.” Simone is portrayed with funny force by Sally Dexter. But if on TV the X Factor format feels tired, on stage it’s not even twitching. … There is very little to recommend this show. The songs are murdered, either by the set-up – a discussion about middle-aged pubic hair leads, astonishingly, into “Too Much” – or the arrangement. … Viva and her friends are bland and indistinguishable; everyone else is a cliché. There’s not much cockle-warming, despite the performers’ best efforts. There is some glitz. But it says something when you find yourself scanning the audience for entertainment.

Charles Spencer (Telegraph): I’ll tell you what I wanted, what I really, really wanted – I wanted this terrible show to stop. … This musical is tawdry, lazy and unedifying, and one could sense a miasma of disappointment emanating from an audience of up-for-it Spice Girls fans slowly realizing that they had paid top whack to see a clunker. … What really scuppers the show – and it is nearly always the case with dud musicals – is the book. Jennifer Saunders’s script is almost insultingly banal. … This is a fatuous show with nothing fresh to say about popular culture and our fixation with fame. If you love the Spice Girls stay at home and listen to their greatest hits.

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