When the Paris Branche visits the London Branche
(forgive my English, and don’t hesitate in correcting what needs to)
I’ve never been a big fan of the Spice Girls, but I’ve always liked them. I even went to their big return tour at the O2 Arena in 2008. So when I heard of this musical, I was intrigued, even more when I knew Jennifer Saunders was to write it. So I went. I wasn’t aware of all the press bashing before going, I never read reviews before. I was just a bit surprised to get day ticket at 1pm when they’re available since 10am, try to do that with Wicked :p But it was a weekday in the middle of the school holidays, no big deal. So here I am at 7.30pm waiting for the show to start, knowing nothing about it, just hoping for a a good feel-good show. And it’s what I had ! Except for a few things though.
Let’s be honest, it’s not a good show, not as good as it could have been. Act 1 is very good : funny, witty, dynamic, the story is well planted, I was hooked. Especially because of one character : Simone (Sally Dexter). Along with another character, Suzi (Lucy Montgomery, hilarious), they’re the pillars of the show. When Simone first entered the stage, I knew I was lost and had a new massive artistic crush. The thing is, Jennifer Saunders wrote a character especially for me ! She doesn’t know but she will now, because of course she’ll read this entry :p I have a soft spot for mature powerful diva bitches wearing leather and pumps and Simone is a mix between Irina Derevko (Alias), Pam Swynford de Beaufort (True Blood) and Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), some of my favourite fiction characters. And when Simone is to wear a Maleficent-style gown after a great rendition of « Look at Me », that was the end of me, I’ll never be totally objective about this show.
But let’s back to the beginning and know that from now on you’re on a :
**** SPOILERS ALERT**** !! « Viva Forever » tells the story of a band of 4 girls, 4 besties 4evah, Viva and her friends who participates in a tv reality show « Starmaker ». Any ressemblance with a very well known tvshow is completely on purpose The girls are chosen after the first auditions, the opening of the show, on « Wannabe ». All Act 1 is a critique of this kind of tv realities, we see the mysteries of the making, with judges fighting, the importance of the ratings and how at the end only making money is the point of it. It’s the part I was most interested in because 1/Simone is very present, with great numbers on « Denying », « Look at Me » and « Do It » 2/I never really believed in Viva and her friends, I was not interested in their story, which is a shame since the show is their story ! Maybe Jennifer Saunders is more at ease with writing adult characters than teenagers.
When we are not in the TV studios, we are at Viva’s. She lives with her mum, on a boathouse. Viva’s mum, Lauren, has 2 best friends, Suzi and Mitch whom you can see from his first line is so in love with Lauren. All the scenes on the boathouse are meant to be a counterpoint to the cynical world of tv reality, where you have friends and love from your family, where life is simple, where friendship is stronger than anything and where you get a tattoo to prove it. Whereas in the studios, we’re at war, the judges Simone, Johnny and Karen are fighting, Johnny trying to get rid of Simone (ah ex lovers…). Karen doesn’t really count, she’s the dumb judge, the young singer who’s famous only because she’s a product and doesn’t really care about it (or doesn’t really realise, your choice). To get Simone mad, Johnny convinces the staff to give her the girl group, ie our 4 girls, whose band’s called Eternity. The girls get mentored by Simone, it’s time for the prime, the one that will send the winning band at the « Academy ». Eternity sings « Stop » in a sixties scenery and glowing gowns (kind of blinding glittering gowns) and the judges have to give their vote… Simone would like to see them lose but Johnny wants to make them win, so they get his vote and Karen’s vote. Simone’s quite pissed off so she takes her Maleficent voice and announces that yes, Eternity is good but she won’t send them to success, she will send only one of her ! And she choses Viva. To help her in her decision, Simone sings « Do It » in a gospel way, for me it was in a Maleficent way, trying to turn the innocent girl in a traitor to her friends.
Viva accepts and here comes the clash between the friends illustrated by « Say You’ll Be There ». The one mistake in this perfect Act 1 so far. It was poorly rendered, the scenography was confusing and nothing was really convincing. The girls go their separated ways and Viva goes back to the boathouse. Her mother supports and encourages her, it’s the big seperation and the time for the mashup « Goodbye My Friend/Mama ». It was a nice moment, could have been better if Viva were played by a better actress. Well, she’s not bad, she’s got a nice voice but I really really didn’t believe in her during the whole show. At the end of this mashup, a 3rd voice is added, it’s Simone singing « Headlines ». I loved this moment because I had a theory all along the Act : we learn that Viva is adopted, Lauren’s not her real mother and this idea immediatly popped into my head : Simone’s her mother ! So when her voice is added to the goodbye scene I thought it was really good because Viva was leaving the nest to be mentored by another woman who would be a mother figure and if she were her real mum that could be awesome !
Act 2 starts with Viva and Simone, and the preparation staff. Simone gets her assistant Hinty to find a weakness in Viva, to feed the tabloid magazines, because being nice with a bit of talent is not enough to win. I liked this scene very much because Viva and Simone bonded and I still had this idea they could be mother and daughter. Viva resists and « Who Do You Think You Are » starts, sung by Simone. Who is interrupted by Johnny who ends up by humiliating her in front of Viva. She doesn’t understand why Simone accepts this bad treatment and this when Simone finally gets something from Viva, begging her to be with her in this competition, to give her something to throw to the hyenas outside the doors. Viva confesses she’s adopted. Simone seems very interested but acts like it was nothing. The next day Viva is on the cover of all the magazines, her confession in big letters. It’s hunted by the papparazzis that we follow Viva to Spain, where the team is going to get her ready for the primes. And this is when the show turns bad.
The introduction to Spain is such an embarrassment. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; Viva arrives in Spain on « Spice up Your Life » and she’s taken into the thrill of the country except all the clichés and caricatures are summed up in this scene : the silhouette of a bull in the back of the stage, dancers with false flamenco suits, a priest (!), giant puppets, coconut trees, and the choregraphy seemed amateur… What I hated there, was not the cheap show, but it was the Ab Fab writing taking all the place : I was okay with a Suzi/Patsy Stone, I was okay with a Minty/Bubbles, but this, this is forbidden in a show like that. I love Ab Fab and I laughed my ar** off in front of the episodes in France and Morroco, but it was Ab Fab, not Viva Forever, it was really misplaced here. And for me, from here the show lost its quality, its wit and its coherence. There is this hysterical moment when Simone wants to surprise Viva but above all to upscale the ratings by annoucing in front of the cameras that she found Viva’s real mother. It’s long, and hysterical and weak. I hoped Simone would be Viva’s mother especially because of all the hints put there to make me think so when Hinty insists on the existence of Simone’s children in Act 1. Alas ! No big revelation, Simone’s not Viva’s mother and there’s no real mother to show, it was all a manipulation to get better ratings. Viva leaves the show after that, not caring about Starmaker anymore, Simone doesn’t know what to do, Lauren and Mitch get together, a very very funny scene on « 2 become 1″, the highlight of this poor Act 2 ans Johnny gets Simone to talk to Viva, to make her come back in the show, at her conditions, whatever they are. It’s a good scene between those two. Everybody gets back to London, Viva gets her friends back, they sing together for Starmaker yadda yadda yadda… I must admit I was not in the show anymore because the quality got so much down ! No more continuity with the story, no real conclusion to all the storylines, the characters are left in stand-by. Of course the Spice Girls hits did their job, I sang, I danced, but something was missing… *****/SPOILERS ALERT****
This is the longest entry in history about a show not that good ! But it had its moment, I wasn’t expected a masterpiece but I could have done with a well-handed script and situations in control. Jennifer Saunders almost did it, too bad she got lazy in the second Act. Lazy or too enthusiastic maybe. I can’t forgive the Spain Fiesta though, that was really really bad.
Even though the show has its weaknesses, I don’t understand the press bashing it received. Well, I know the show was rewritten a few weeks after the premiere, and it seems quite a few things have been changed. So why the press didn’t go back and see by themselves what had changed and maybe tempered their reviews ? (maybe because after the premiere they would have to pay to get their seats ?).
Also, I find the communication strategy quite bad managed : we still get the old programmes with the list of songs from the 1st script, some of them have disappeared (« I Turn To You », I would have loved to see Sally Dexter sings this one, I don’t care if it was confusing in the story), the end has changed too, and I think the photos in the programme are from the 1st end. I know this costs money, but it all seems a bit amateur, like not taken very seriously. The videos on the Youtube chain are always the same, the facebook page is always repeating the same things, I cant’ find other interviews of J.Saunders or Judy Craymer than the ones in the programmes. And the cast never goes on television for interviews or just singing a song from the show. I know they work 6 nights a week plus matinees, but you can’t find anything on the net other than the official stuff. It’s frustrating !
So, as I didn’t find what I wanted to feed my obsession, I went a second time; maybe that’s the strategy, forcing people going several times :p (well in my case it’s not going to give them money as a power cut occured during the Saturday matinee, and I think we get a refund, I have to call ATG back) Anyways, I hope a cast recording will be released, I will be the first to buy it ! (And if I go back to London before Feb 2014, I may even see it again )