New Spice Girls musical gets a critical pasting
Mel B, from left, Mel C, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton, and Victoria Beckham stand on stage at the curtain call for the press night for Viva Forever!, a musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls, at the Piccadilly Theatre in central London, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012 7:49AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 12, 2012 3:54PM EST
LONDON -- The critics have spoken -- "Viva Forever" did not spice up their lives.
British reviewers were scathing Wednesday about the big-budget stage show built around the songs of 1990s "Girl Power" pop group the Spice Girls.
"I'll tell you what I wanted, what I really, really wanted -- I wanted this terrible show to stop," said Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph, riffing on the group's biggest hit, "Wannabe."
"This musical is tawdry, lazy and unedifying," he said, awarding the show one star.
The Independent newspaper's Paul Taylor gave the show two stars out of five, calling it "lacking in any truly original or challenging spark," while the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts dubbed it "a prize Christmas turkey."
A celebrity-studded audience that included soccer star David Beckham -- there with wife Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham and sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz -- gave the show an opening-night standing ovation Tuesday at London's Piccadilly Theatre.
And the band members themselves were enthusiastic as they took the stage for a curtain call.
"It was ... great," said Melanie Brown, also known as brassy band member Scary Spice. She inserted an emphatic expletive before "great."
The show, written by comedian Jennifer Saunders, takes the Girl Power theme that made the band a pop sensation and updates it to a world of Twitter and TV talent shows. It follows four teenage friends whose bond is tested when they enter a reality show, and only one -- the titular Viva -- is chosen to advance.
"It's not a tribute show," said producer Judy Craymer, who was also behind the mega-successful ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!"
"It's not their story. It's a story of now."
Refreshing as it is to see a musical built around female friendship and mother-daughter bonds, some audience members might have reflected that the real-life story of the Spice Girls -- their rise from obscurity to global fame, subsequent fallout and varied solo careers -- is richer and more interesting than the show's feel-good plot.
Critics had praise for the show's cast, which includes stage veterans Sally Ann Triplett as Viva's houseboat-dwelling mother and Sally Dexter as an icy talent-show judge.
But some felt that aside from a few hits -- "Wannabe," "Stop," "Who Do You Think You Are?" -- the band's catalogue was not strong enough to support a two-and-a-half hour show.
The show also exposes the banality of the Spice Girls' lyrics. The songs of ABBA, which power "Mamma Mia!" are positively Shakespearean by comparison.
"The Spice Girls may have been many things, but the authors of a back catalogue packed with deathless pop classics is not among them," said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian.
Others felt the script, by comedian Jennifer Saunders -- co-creator of celebrity-skewering sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous" -- was surprisingly un-funny.
"You would think it would be easy to strap the songs of one of the biggest girl groups in recent history to an exuberant story of girl power to create a worldwide money-making machine," wrote Alun Palmer in the Daily Mirror. "But you would be wrong."
The show's success or failure may depend less on critics than on how well the Spice Girls are still loved a decade and a half after their heyday.
The five-member group, known for its brash attitude and "Cool Britannia" branding, shot to fame in 1996 and sold 75 million records around the world. Halliwell left the group in 1998 and the group effectively split a decade ago.
The five members appeared on stage together for the first time in five years at the London Olympics closing ceremony in August and have reunited to promote "Viva Forever."
All five attended Tuesday's premiere -- although Beckham arrived later than the others, and sat apart from them in the theatre.
On the red carpet before the show, Melanie Chisholm -- "Sporty Spice" -- said she was not afraid of critics' verdict.
"If people criticize it, we don't care -- because we love it," she said.