Woman’s Own’s Entertainment Editor Rob Chilton was invited to the press night of Viva Forever. Here’s his verdict on the hottest new West End show…
The energy on the red carpet before Viva Forever! was enormous as screaming fans chanted for Geri, Emma and the two Mels (making an entrance later, of course, was Victoria). What a shame then that the sparkle couldn’t be transmitted onto the stage.
Not enough hits in the first 45 minutes meant the crowd quickly got restless. And it was telling that the biggest cheer of the night came when the Spice Girls – all five of them this time – arrived on stage at the curtain call to congratulate the cast, the writer Jennifer Saunders and the producer Judy Craymer.
Too many of the songs were re-jigged into slow or different versions, which removed their fizz. Musical supervisor Martin Koch said before the show that he ‘de-popped’ the songs for the stage show. Why? The Spice Girls have an incredible back catalogue of catchy pop tunes – why not let them do the work for you?
The high point came at the start of the second half when the action transferred to Spain and Spice Up Your Life, played in its original version, threatened to blow the roof off the theatre. The Spice Girls were dancing in their seats and clearly loving every second. At the end of the number, the audience erupted as dancers were left breathless on stage. It should have been like that all night.
If Simon Cowell was thinking about buying a ticket he should probably stay away because he might find it uncomfortable viewing. Saturday night TV gets a pasting as four young girls are chewed up and spat out by a talent search show called Starmaker. The programme is unashamedly manipulative and exploits its young stars, often referring to contestants as ‘the gay one’ or ‘the fat one.’ The judges of the show are monsters. One a spray-tanned TOWIE reject, one a Sharon Osbourne/Cruella De Vil hybrid and the third a ruthless and heartless stereotypical music boss.
There’s a line from the Sharon Osbourne clone about reality and truth and who cares which is which. She then tells the show’s assistant to make the lead character, Viva, cry and later punches the air when a personal story is revealed because she knows it’ll boost ratings. We see the judges being ‘constructed’ for the TV show as if they are robots to demonstrate how fake it all is.
Serious issues pop their head up during the evening. The nasty stylist on the show makes jibes about Viva’s weight throughout. There’s a debate about ageing and women. The head judge says men age, women rot, which prompted a few playful panto style jeers from the audience. Jen Saunders, clearly, is not a fan of The X Factor.
Her fingerprints are all over this show. There are echoes of French and Saunders and nods to Ab Fab with the drunk, happy-go-lucky Suzi as Patsy and the air-headed assistant Minty as Bubbles. Jen wrote the show while undergoing chemotherapy and she includes a couple of witty one liners about cancer. But the funniest scene comes when two nervous middle-aged characters fumble their way through a seduction, cleverly using the lyrics of 2 Become 1 to raise a laugh.
It all ends rather abruptly. And the medley after the action, which had fans on their feet, all came too late. However, this show will go on for years and be a box office hit because it will entice groups of girls looking for a fun night out and a bit of a sing-a-long.
And also, let’s not forget, it is the Spice Girls after all. Their girl power still has some oomph, even if Viva Forever! doesn’t.