Second Stage Theatre, 12-10-13
This high-quality new production is a quirky musical based on the quirky 2006 hit film written by Michael Arndt.
Director and Book: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics: William Finn
Lead Cast: Stephanie J. Block, Will Swenson, Rory O’Malley, David Rasche, Hannah Nordberg, Logan Rowland
Shari on the Aisle Rating: * * * *
Plot: When sweet Olive Hoover receives a last-minute invitation to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, her entire dysfunctional family piles into Grandpa’s old VW van to make the trip from Arizona to California. This isn’t your garden-variety dysfunctional family: Grandpa snorts coke, gay Uncle Frank just tried to off himself, brother Dwayne is obsessed with Nietzsche and hasn’t spoken for nearly three months, and not surprisingly, Mom and Dad’s marriage could self-destruct at any moment.
Will they arrive at the pageant in time? Will Dwayne speak again? Will Olive win? Can this family be saved? The answers to three of these four questions is “yes”. The show closely follows the film’s plot, so if you’ve seen it, you already know which is which.
Bottom Line: This is a top-drawer off-Broadway production, filled with Broadway stars: Block and Swenson have multiple Tony/Drama Desk/Drama League noms; theatre-geek favorite O’Malley was Tony-nominated for his unforgettable “Turn It Off” performance in The Book of Mormon; Rasche is a seasoned Broadway/TV/film pro. James Lapine’s (book and director) credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, Sunday in the Park with George, and many more. William Finn (music and lyrics) won two Tonys for Falsettos (Best Book of a Musical, with Lapine, and Best Original Score).
The opening number, “The Way of the World,” is basically an ode to failure. It’s funny and sad, and sets the tone for the rest of the 100-minute show. Everything about the production is top notch, much of it resting on the slender shoulders of nine-year-old Hannah Nordberg as Olive. (The bespectacled pint-sized actress wears some padding on her tummy and rear end for the role). She brings down the house when she shakes her “ba-donk-a-donk” in the Little Miss Sunshine talent competition. Nordberg’s Hannah is so exuberant, loving, sweet, and sincere that you root for her and her family to persevere and overcome their multiple issues.
Should You See It? Sorry, but it’s probably too late. Little Miss Sunshine is about to end its run at Second Stage. However, don’t despair. Given its illustrious pedigree and winning book and score, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up on Broadway. I hope it does, so that many more people will have an opportunity to cheer Olive and her ba-donk-a-donk. Stay tuned.