Theater: ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ could use some shade

The family sits down to a somewhat standard (for them) dinner, just before the tables are irrevocably turned. Credit: Joan Marcus
The family sits down to a standard (for them) dinner, just before the tables are irrevocably turned.
Credit: Joan Marcus

Why do producers keep making bad musicals out of good movies? They must think they have the next “Once,” when in fact their show is more likely to post a closing notice before you can say “Nine to Five.”

“Little Miss Sunshine,” at Second Stage, is not a bad musical — but it pales next to its source material, largely because its music is at odds with its book. It begins with a potent opening number bemoaning (or extolling) life’s disappointments, a recurring theme. But while the book more or less keeps to its hardboiled roots, the songs go soft.

“Sunshine” centers on Olive (Hannah Nordberg), a fourth-grader who wants to be the first Miss America from New Mexico. Olive placed second at the regional Little Miss Sunshine Pageant. She’s surrounded by a family of losers, including gay Uncle Frank (Rory O’Malley), who slit his wrists after his lover jilted him, Grandpa (David Rasche), who was booted out of a senior residence and perennially unemployed Dad (Will Swenson). Mom (Stephanie J. Block), the most normal but disappointed with life, and purposely mute brother Dwayne (Logan Rowland) complete the picture.

A call comes that the winner of the Little Miss Sunshine regionals has been disqualified, so Olive can compete in the pageant finals in California that weekend. The entire family goes with her. It’s a road trip from hell, with many obstacles, but they forge ahead.

Songs tend to be backstory or windows into the souls of the play’s characters. We get to know them better, but at a price. The music gets a little mushy — not entirely muting the play’s bark, but definitely diminishing its bite.

If you go

‘Little Miss Sunshine’
Through Dec. 15
Second Stage Theatre
305 W. 43rd St.
$62-$130
www.2st.com



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