TIM WALKER reviews Sleepless: A Musical Romance – and dubs it a ‘great stage comeback’.
The old Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan rom-com Sleepless in Seattle tells the story of a little boy with an impossible dream, and that’s something the producers of this big, bold musical adaptation know all about. Michael Rose, Damien Sanders, Encore Productions, David Shor and Marc Toberoff deserve special places of honour in the history of theatre for having the courage to do this.
The possibility of a second lockdown and whether the punters would be willing to resume their seats were both entirely unknown quantities when they put down their money and decided Sleepless: A Musical Romance would go on, no matter what.
So there we all were spaced out – in a healthy way – in this vast aircraft hangar of a theatre, our temperatures checked on the door and wearing branded Sleepless visors that made us look like a lot of welders gathered together for their annual convention.
Credit where it’s due – the management had thought it all through, including hand sanitiser points and distancing in the lavatories and in the queue for the bar. The cast, too, were discreetly distanced and are checked daily for the virus.
The show was originally going to open just as the coronavirus threw theatreland into darkness and its postponed start – six months on – makes it the first major indoor production since lockdown.
Let me say immediately that I love it and I am profoundly grateful for it. The actors – deprived of work for so many miserable months – give it everything they’ve got and a rare emotional charge.
Jonah’s impossible dream is to get his father Sam to meet what appears to be a too-good-to-be-true woman called Annie, who wrote in after he appeared on a radio phone-in programme and talked movingly about the trauma of losing his wife.
Young Jobe Hart played Jonah on opening night and he was phenomenally good. He also gets to sing the best number in Now or Never and there were times when he looked perilously close to stealing the whole show. Jay McGuiness as Sam is still however impressive – he doesn’t make the mistake of pretending to be Hanks – and Kimberley Walsh dazzles as the glamorous Annie.
There’s superb back-up from Daniel Casey, Harriet Thorpe, Cory English and Charlie Bull – hilarious as a date of Sam’s with an improbably loud nervous laugh – and top marks, too, to Morgan Large for his lavish revolving set and the orchestral management of Sylvia Addison.
In ordinary circumstances, I may well have written this off as just another formulaic screen-to-stage adaptation, but in these extraordinary times it has ended up being worth a lot more than the sum of its parts and it makes for an unforgettable night at the theatre.
It was a starry, heady first night and I hope very much that Dame Judi Dench – who talked in the dark depths of lockdown about how she feared she might never live to see another show – goes along to see it. It was of course kooky, frothy musicals such as this that cheered up the world after the Spanish flu was finally seen off in the Roaring Twenties, and, oh boy, do we all need cheering up once again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.