WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE?: Troubadour, Wembley Park Theatre
WHEN?: 27/9/20 RUNTIME: 140 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
Based on the 1993 film written and directed by Nora Ephron, Sleepless: A Musical Romance tells the story of architect Sam mourning the loss of his wife Maggie who is persuaded by his young son Jonah to tell a Christmas Eve radio show how much he misses her.
- Read on for reasons including how McGuiness and Walsh shine in their second big musical opposite each other
Listening to ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ is Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed who is moved by ‘a guy opening up when guys don’t do that’ and is one of hundreds of women who writes Sam a letter in response.
It’s no accident that Sleepless has an old-fashioned feel with Annie watching 1957 Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr film An Affair To Remember and being inspired by it to suggest she meets Sam on the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day.
Sam’s son Jonah reads the letter and urges his father to meet Annie while he instead is making alternative romantic steps. Essentially this is a story about about two people meeting and not a lot else happens which means there’s a lot of talking and back and forth about what to do which doesn’t make for either the most dramatic score or production.
We found it pleasant but slow although it is a gradual build and by the show’s end at the top of the Empire State Building, and this is no spoiler, we even had to wipe tears from our eyes at the moving conclusion. Its stars are engaging.
We last saw them opposite each other in BIG The Musical at the Dominion and we said then: ‘Fans of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing are especially well served here by a former winner of the Saturday night ratings hit as the leading man and a finalist as his leading lady.’
Sleepless has a slow, jazzy score but is classier than BIG (although both shared the same director, Morgan Young who also directed Walsh in Elf) with a book by Michael Burdette and score by British duo Robert Scott and Brendan Cull.
We said of Walsh in Elf that she was endearing and deserved a bigger role and she closes Act One with one of the show’s highlights (I Won’t Regret The Things I Didn’t Do). She has the acting challenge of retaining the audience’s sympathy while pursuing Sam and mulling over an unsuitable relationship with her boss. She is as reliable here as she has been in starring roles in similar musicals-spawned-by-movies Shrek and the previously mentioned Elf.
McGuiness convinces as a young grieving father but the show’s comedy highlight is song It’s Now Or Never which gets the audience clapping along in appreciation as Jonah and Sam’s best friend Rob (an excellent Cory English) contrive to make the central couple meet.
The supporting cast has strength in depth and Harriet Thorpe makes the most of a strong early song about the love for her husband and how he said her name.
This is our first visit to this venue, the seating has shrunk from 1,200 to 400 to make it COVID-secure and daily testing means the cast are not noticeably socially-distanced. In March it was suspended at dress rehearsal stage at lockdown and it’s a delight to have it back onstage at what is a difficult time.