Mark Ludmon reviews Sleepless the musical starring Jay McGuiness and Kimberley Walsh at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.
Sleepless: A Musical Romance
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, London
Book Sleepless Tickets Here
With the world in a grip of a global pandemic, a new musical adaptation of classic rom-com Sleepless in Seattle offers a couple of delightful hours of pure escapism. The two main characters are 2,700 miles apart for most of the story but you can almost forget social distancing – despite sitting there in a face mask, at least a metre away from anyone outside your “bubble”.
Following the 1993 film, Sleepless: A Musical Romance whisks you back to the 1990s, to a time before mobile phones and social media. With a pleasant jazz and swing score, it musically recalls the Harry Connick Jnr soundtrack of another rom-com classic, When Harry Met Sally, nostalgically harking back further to an age of classic, old-fashioned romance. It is the romantic films and songs of the past that inspire a young woman, Annie, to go in search of a widower, Sam, after his 10-year-old son, Jonah, tricks him into going on the radio to talk about his dream of finding a second wife. Annie is in Baltimore, Sam is in Seattle, and the story follows the twists and turns that are destined to see them meet and fall in love.
The roles created by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the film are played with charm and likability by Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness, reuniting after last year’s musical adaptation of another Hanks film, Big. In the hands of director Morgan Young and writer Michael Burdette, the production is tight and pacy although some of the “com” of the rom-com falls flat in the cavernous space of Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre. Despite this unevenness, there are plenty of times when the show sparkles. As Annie’s mother, Harriet Thorpe lights up her few scenes with her sparky humour, while Cory English is perfect as Sam’s flaky but kind-hearted friend, Rob. There are also strong performances from Daniel Casey as Annie’s neurotic fiancé Walter, Tania Mathurin as her best friend Becky, Charlie Bull as Sam’s date Victoria, and Dominique Planter as one of his more voracious admirers. With four boys rotating the role of Jonah, Jobe Hart was impressive on the night I went, both as actor and singer.
The choreography is low-key – it has been described by its creators as more of a “play with music” – but its toe-tapping score, composed by Robert Scott with lyrics by Brendan Cull, has several highlights, from Annie’s powerful Act One closer, “Things I Didn’t Do”, and the charming duet, “Are You Looking Up?”, to an energetic show-stopping routine by Rob and Jonah, “Now or Never”. Some of the tunes are certainly catchy, including Annie’s perky “It’s Out Of My Hands” that has burrowed its way into my head.
Morgan Large’s clever and versatile set features cityscapes and line drawings inspired by Sam’s profession as an architect. It is in almost constant flux without being distracting, revolving and changing thanks to Ian William Galloway’s video design and Ken Billington’s lighting. At its best, Sleepless: A Musical Romance is charming and may even bring a tear to your eye – and not just because it is the first time we are able to enjoy live performances and a live orchestra inside a theatre since March.
There is certainly no need for anxiety about coronavirus when going to the show. Everyone’s temperature is quickly checked before entering, and all staff and spectators wear masks while inside. I quickly forgot I was wearing my face mask, and there are transparent face shields available as an alternative. People sit together in their “bubbles” at least a metre apart, usually more, while arrows and staff keep everyone flowing in one direction – with hand sanitisers available throughout. The bars are open, with plenty of space for people to spread out within the expansive theatre both before the show and during the interval. Thanks to the scale of the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, seating is set up for 2,000 but only 400 seats are in use each performance. It may not be ideal, but for now it is the best and safest way to enjoy live theatre.
Running to 27 September 2020