Spice Girls musical "Viva Forever!" endures critical beat down — and lots of puns
Critics really, really want audiences to steer clear of a new Spice Girls musical, "Viva Forever!," which opened Tuesday on London's West End.
"Viva Forever!" uses the girl group's bubble-gum brand of pop music to tell the story of female musicians who try to break into the big time by competing on a televised talent show. Reviews for the musical were disastrous, with many notices dubbing the play, in the words of the Spice Girls' most famous song, a "Wannabe."
For those who napped through the Clinton-era, other Spice Girls hits include "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Spice Up Your Life," and you best believe that almost all of them were lathered with a thick coat of snark and used as blunt force puns in a serious of critical drubbings.
Indeed, reviews haven't been this horrific since, well, "Spice World," the group's 1997 big screen debut nearly drained the critical community of its opprobrium.
With a production team that includes "Mamma Mia!" producer Judy Craymer and a script by "Absolutely Fabulous" creator Jennifer Saunders, expectations were high. But by Wednesday morning, those hopes had largely been mashed into dust.
In The Telegraph, Charles Spencer awarded the musical just one star (out of five) and accused the production of being "tawdry, lazy and unedifying." The later gripe may be a tad unfair. This is a musical featuring the songs of the Spice Girls after all, not a revival of "The Crucible."
"I’ll tell you what I wanted, what I really, really wanted – I wanted this terrible show to stop," Spencer complained.
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail predicted the show would not be long for this world and decried the musical for taking its girl-power anthems and draining them of all spice.
"Add to that some iffy performances, gloomy backdrops and a lamentably slow start, and you have the makings of a notable West End flop," Letts wrote. "It’s almost as if the thing has a death wish."
Also predicting the show would fall short of the musical theater canon was Paul Taylor at The Independent. He wrote that the show "has some moderately amusing moments," but is "lacking in any truly original or challenging spark of its own."
"Viva Forever! forever? I rather think not," he concluded.
In the Huffington Post UK, Caroline Frost said most of the drama at the premiere was generated not on stage, but in the audience, as the crowds gazed adoringly at Victoria Beckham (the former "Posh Spice" and wife of soccer star David Beckham). The songs are great, she noted, they just don't provide enough sinew for a skeletal production.
Frost lamented that it "…kind of makes you wonder why the producers didn't just hire a nightclub and make it a Viva Forever!-themed night, instead of all this hand-wringing nonsense about friendship never ending, and being true to yourself. These are songs for dance floors, not the aircraft hanger space of what amounted to a big-budget school production, without a hairbrush to sing into in sight."
In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis praised the cast, but faulted the songs, saying that with just three albums to their name, the Spice Girls body of work is too flimsy to justify a jukebox musical.
"You occasionally get the feeling the songs are getting in the way of the story rather than elaborating on it," he wrote.
Adding, "And there's nothing really wrong with Jennifer Saunders' script, although there are moments where the plot fairly obviously exists solely to crowbar another 90s hit into proceedings."
In the case of "Viva Forever!" that tepid appraisal constitutes a rave.