Viva Forever Let’s hope it’s dead by Easter
23:31 GMT, 13 December 2012
Good for the Spice Girls. They may just have performed their greatest service. For women, for men, for the whole of humanity, in fact. They’ve killed the jukebox musical.
Bludgeoned it to death with a tyre iron, really. Beaten its brains out in the desperate pursuit of more cash, until the gory remains were splattered across the West End streets, like an unfortunate hedgehog carcass on the M40.
Credit to Jennifer Saunders, too, for she played a part. It is, after all, her widely panned storyline that has framed the Spice Girls back catalogue for the musical Viva Forever!. Saunders chose to launch a morality tale concerning the evils of reality-show commercialism and modern celebrity culture around the songs of a pop group that signed a deal with Walkers Crisps.
Tribute: The Spice Girls pictured on stage with some of the cast of their jukebox musical Viva Forever!
It’s a pity the show isn’t full of such rich irony. What it is full of — well, we know what it’s full of, but we can’t print that — is the songs of the Spice Girls. Their entire output is roughly two hours of original music, including album fillers, to pad out a two-hour show. And as this is the West End the lyrics are now enunciated. So. You. Can. Hear. Every. Word.
This makes it all the more enjoyable when one of the characters comes over radical about bikini waxing, and announces that her ‘pubes are political’. And surely a strident, self-aware young woman of the Nineties would have baulked just a little at singing this:
Yellow man in Timbuktu,
Colour for both me and you,
Kung fu fighting dancing queen,
Tribal spaceman and all that’s inbetween.
Spice up your life: Mamma Mia and Viva Forever! producer Judy Craymer, second from left, pictured with (L-R) Melanie Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Jennifer Saunders, Geri Halliwell and Melanie Brown
That’s some weapons-grade gibberish. It’s from Spice Up Your Life, by the way, a song the musical is so proud of, it gets a reprise.
Now our ‘pubes are political’ character, as well as finding this drivel an insult to her intelligence, would possibly also have spotted that although Timbuktu sounds Asian, it is actually a town in Mali, West Africa. A yellow man in Timbuktu would therefore either have to be suffering a quite spectacular case of jaundice, or tackling a colourful yet difficult ceiling, with a tin of Dulux Lemon Syllabub.
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The cynics behind Viva Forever! no doubt believe the show is critic-proof and its almost universal condemnation as utter rubbish will be of no consequence to a target audience of grown-up fans, happy to have ditched the kids and be out for the night. Maybe they are right. But maybe, just maybe, the show is a clunker. And perhaps its failure will inadvertently edge the West End towards a better age.
Musical theatre used to be about original work. Original music. Original rhymes. It was not some dreadful karaoke evening for has-beens to revisit their youth; some stitch-up of a load of old pop songs, with a clumsy plot line stapled together by Ben Elton on auto-pilot.
For Saunders to make Viva Forever! work, the star character is called Viva. As in Vauxhall Viva, or Viva Espana. In fact, the action does decamp to Spain at one point. It’s surprising the writers did not take the opportunity to have the cast sing that one, too. It has about as much relevance to modern times as any old Spice Girls hit. Not to mention an improved grasp of basic geography.
Heaven forbid anyone should come up with original material in the West End these days. Theatres are too busy breathing life into corpses to take on anything new.
Jukebox musicals are safe. There isn’t a note you haven’t heard, a chorus with which you aren’t familiar. The moneymen think they are guaranteed a hit because the songs are already hits. There is no risk, for the producer, or the audience. It is an entirely sanitised night out.
And then the Spice Girls came along, with their teeny, tiny talent, and an oeuvre of decent tunes that wouldn’t outlast the overture from Carousel. Viva forever With any luck it won’t make it to Easter, and then maybe the dreadful opportunists flooding West End culture with their banal mediocrity will have to put something new on.
Japan’s Mr Right is very wrong
Return: Shinzo Abe, of the Liberal Democratic Party, advocates a hard-line foreign policy
Japan heads to the polls this weekend amid predictions of a lurch to the Right. This anticipated swing is close to a certainty now that North Korea has launched its first space rocket. It means a landslide for Shinzo Abe, of the Liberal Democratic Party, who advocates a hard-line foreign policy and some other, rather disturbing, changes at home.
Abe has been prime minister before, between September 2006 and September 2007, but he was a different man then. He improved relations with China and said that, while in office, he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, in Tokyo.
Yasukuni is controversial as it commemorates Japan’s 2.5 million World War II dead, including 14 Class A war criminals. Abe now says he regrets his decision not to go as prime minister and has already visited twice this year. If elected, he will go again. His opponent, Yoshihiko Noda, the current Prime Minister, accuses him of ‘hard-line posturing and xenophobia’.
As well as rewriting the constitution, Abe wants to turn Japan’s self-defence force into an army and end an agreement to take the views of China and South Korea into account in Japanese history books.
Some see Japan’s willingness to be an ally against North Korea as positive, but the country’s peaceful post-war existence has contributed greatly to stability in the region. This period may be at an end. That cannot be good.