There’s been much media attention given to the recent glitzy opening of the new Spice Girls’ musical, Viva Forever! Following the press night, critical response in the big newspapers and online publications to Viva Forever! has varied from complimentary to disdainful. Fans of the Spice Girls may wish to know which reviewers thought what, and with this in mind Shows in London wants to make you aware of just who has come down hardest on one of the most fun additions to London Theatreland in recent months, so fans of the show can persuade the critics to think again.
Vogue’s Ella Alexander catches the tone of the musical itself, saying that one should pass over the parts of Viva Forever “that are a bit crass, even a little embarrassing” (doesn’t this mean we can squirm more?!). Alexander writes that the group embodied pop culture to “bring happiness to the masses”, and the musical’s cast capture this sense of fun and energy commendably. So, on balance, a nice review.
Caroline Frost, writing for the Huffington Post, noted that the songs were “bound to make anyone who had a pulse in the 90s’ feel suitably nostalgic.” Pop critic Miranda Sawyer, writing in the Observer, sees “ very little to recommend this show” but this could be because her nostalgia is painful and she puts the band on too high a pedestal.
Many reviewers mention that some tunes, like the title song, are delivered in a very different form from those on record, leading WhatsOnStage’s Michael Coveney to call many of them “anaemic”. This is the last word needed to describe what should be a full-blooded and fun musical. Perhaps Coveney, an experienced theatre-goer, should read into the characters more, as the songs may be sung like this.
Though he admits there is enough in Viva Forever “not to write the show off completely as ‘zig-a-zig-aaargh’”, another male reviewer, Simon Edge of The Express, says the lyrics, which are meant to drive the plot of a jukebox musical, are “too bland to make an impact…and undermine the comedy, which often struggles to raise a titter. At worst, they jar.”
Oo-er. So there is damning criticism of the writing as well as the music. In the Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings agrees with Ella Alexander’s view: “The buoyant cast make the most of a book where charm and wit are in short supply….There’s not enough infectious silliness or maverick spirit” of the sort that made the musical’s notional subject, the Spice Girls, what they were. Not a fan, we presume, Mr Hitchings…
There is a lot of discussion, most of it negative, about the two plot strands: about the talent show setting Viva finds herself in, and about the identity of Viva’s mother wishing to really discover who her mother is. Judge for yourself if you aren’t lost in karaoke.
On top of this, more than one reviewer calls the characters in the musical ciphers, mere symbols, and many pairs of eyebrows are raised in the sudden location shift to Spain to incorporate Spice Up Your Life, though the same eyebrows dance a little at the joy of the scene.
There is also a consensus that the musical’s power picked up at the curtain call, where the audience was invited to sing along to a medley of hits. Writing in the Telegraph, Charles Spencer delivers the most damning criticism: don’t go. “Stay at home and listen to their greatest hits…This musical is tawdry, lazy and unedifying…The script is almost insultingly banal.” Inform Scary Spice to sabotage Spencer’s next trip to a show!
Miranda Sawyer concludes her review by conceding that fans will definitely love the show. She gave her spare ticket to an Irish fan who “absolutely adored the whole thing; so there.” It seems that despite critical disdain, there exists an audience for Viva Forever!, so take a group along and get lost in the songs, plot be damned. Who knows, it might follow in the footsteps of We Will Rock You.
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