It was a hit film in 2006, and now, a musical version of "Little Miss Sunshine" has arrived off Broadway. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following review for NY1.
Last time composer-lyricist William Finn and director James Lapine collaborated on a musical, it was a show about misfit kids competing for a prize: "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." In "Little Miss Sunshine," they return to the theme; now, it's a children's beauty pageant. In round two, though, success eludes everyone.
Based on the 2006 indie film about a lovably dysfunctional family's cross-country trek to get their dorky little girl to a Los Angeles pageant, the musical tries to mimic the movie's mix of quirk and schmaltz.
Finn would seem to be the right choice to write songs for the stressed-out, flawed underdogs. There's the overworked and in-denial mother, played by Stephanie J Block. Will Swenson is a pathetic, wannabe self-help guru. David Rasche's crusty grandpa longs for sex and drugs before he kicks the bucket. Then there's Rory O'Malley as Uncle Frank, a Proust scholar recovering from a suicide attempt, who gets sucked into the vortex of feckless desperation. The kids in the family are not much saner: rage-prone teenager Dwayne and blissfully awkward Olive, who hopes to nab the crown as Little Miss Sunshine, played by newcomers Logan Rowland and Hannah Nordberg.
Finn's lyrics and bouncy score have witty moments, but too often, they seem generic ballads and strained attempts at hipster comedy. Likewise, Lapine's too-faithful book and direction tries to translate the movie's road-trip vibe to the stage with chairs on wheels, but the trek grows tedious.
There's no shortage of talent on both sides of the footlights, but "Little Miss Sunshine" can't really turn a cloying tale of losers into a winning musical formula.