Little Miss Sunshine - The Musical hits Brighton

Mark Moraghan
Mark Moraghan

As Mark Moraghan says, with TV you tend to get cast more for who you are and for your own personality.Much less so on the stage where there are more opportunities to do something different… such as the musical version of Little Miss Sunshine which heads to Brighton Theatre Royal (June 11-15).

It’s a plunge into the world of US children’s pageants in a tale made famous by the 2006 American comedy-drama road film starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin. Arkin won an Oscar for his portrayal of Grandpa, and that’s the role Mark is stepping into.

Mark hadn’t seen the film until just before the show’s tour opened: “I wanted to put my own ideas into it, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it that I wasn’t a million miles away from what Alan Arkin was doing.”

Mark deliberately waited until he had established the character in his own mind before seeing the movie: “And I really enjoyed it. The whole idea of the pageants that you get in the States is a little bit obscene, but I think it is such a nice story. It is such a human story.”

The Hoover family has more than a few troubles, but young Olive has her heart set on winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. When an invitation to compete comes out of the blue, the Hoovers must pile into their rickety, yellow VW camper van. Can it survive the 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California – and more importantly, can they?

“Olive’s father is a bit of a snob, but the grandpa character, my character, is a non-conformist. He flies in the face of it all and that rubs off on Olive. Grandpa is a rebel. In his younger days, I can see him as a bit of a McMurphy from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I think he would have gone on marches and been a bit of a hippy. I can imagine him going to Woodstock and so on.”

And as for portraying him, well, it helps that Mark himself is a grandad, he says. Part of the pleasure is also the fact that it all works so well as a musical now.

“The story is there, but the music is so good. The music is complex. There are some amazing harmonies going on. Lyrically, it really does capture the essence of the film. Some of the songs are big numbers, and the music is glorious and the arrangements are fantastic. We have got the most amazing singers, and there is a lot more comedy in the musical than there is in the film. I find the whole thing about the pageant very strange, the whole idea of children in make-up and bikinis, but it is a really good story.”

And given the pageant etc, of course, it absolutely has to remain American: “The accents aren’t a problem. Most actors will do it. You have to use your voice. Some actors don’t. They just go through life being personalities, but accents are something I have always enjoyed doing. In television you are cast quite a lot for your personality and who you are, but in the theatre, there is more acting. You get to do very different characters.

“I have been around a long time. I have been lucky. I have been able to do a lot in the business, and I think most actors have to have more than one string to their bow… unless you have been very lucky and had a leg-up into the business through your parents or whatever. But really, I just think you have got to diversify and do different things.”

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