The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
Terry Johnson has done a marvellous job of reinvigorating Jim Cartwright's Lancastrian fairy tale. The expert comedy director and writer is helped by a strong cast led, at least in publicity terms, by 18-year-old X Factor favourite Diana Vickers in the title role.
Miss Vickers may not be the best actor on stage but when she lets rip vocally, one understands why she got the part.
Little Voice was created by Jane Horrocks, currently getting her gun at the Young Vic, and is a fascinating mix of silent introvert and singing star. However, the songs are not her own since LV's shtick is to imitate the voices of stars from Marilyn Monroe and Julie Andrews, neither that special, to Judy Garland, Edith Piaf and especially Shirley Bassey at which she excels.
Strangely, even though it is magically lit by Mark Henderson, the final song that has been written specifically for Miss Vickers is also less impressive a showcase than the Bassey classics Goldfinger and This is My Life, where the power in her far from little voice is allowed free rein.
This production is far more than a tribute jukebox musical. LV, as she is known, lives in a two up two down house cleverly portrayed both up and down by Lez Brotherston on a revolve that also reveals the grimy street outside.
There, she lives with her dreadful mother Mari, given glorious life by Lesley Sharp whose only failing is the accent, which at its best seems modelled on Hilda Baker. Otherwise, she is perfect and extremely funny as a woman long past her sell-by date but afraid to admit it, preferring her drunken fantasies and brief sordid affairs.
Relief almost appears in the guise of tyro agent, Ray Say. Marc Warren is a good foil, making the sleazy rocker with ambitions all too believable.
The story of a reluctant superstar progresses from bedroom chanteuse to club failure and one night wonder reasonably smoothly but this shrinking violet was never headed for the bright lights of Las Vegas or even Manchester.
Her fate and, by extension, that of the rest of the team was doomed by her personality (or lack of it) and leads to a poignant ending that eventually soars as she discovers her own voice.
The leading trio get great support from Rachel Lumberg as Mari's supportive, silent neighbour Sadie, particularly in a hilarious Jackson 5 dance routine, and Tony Haygarth, sporting a dead terrier wig as the night-club owner.
Terry Johnson ensures that The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a good crossover piece, containing a balance of comic drama and musical thus extending an appeal already engendered by fans of the film. As such, with Diana Vickers' drawing power, it should have a long run at the Vaudeville.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher