It is impossible to separate the thrill of returning to the theatre from my feelings about Sleepless: A Musical Romance. Based on the 1993 romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, the musical adaptation is the first major theatrical performance to open in the UK. It is clear that a huge amount of work has gone into this milestone return and though the venue is at less than half capacity for this socially distanced run, it was every inch a proper night out at the theatre.
Sleepless plays into this nostalgia with a faithful stage adaptation of the original film. A year following the death of his wife, Sam (Jay McGuiness) stumbles into a heartfelt confession on late night radio and soon receives an avalanche of love letters from admirers across the country. A Baltimore journalist, Annie (Kimberly Walsh) decides to write a story about this mysterious ‘man with emotions’ and we can see quickly where things are going to end up. The show is at its best when it leans into this silly premise – a musical rendition of some of the quirkier love letters springs to mind – and the excellent live orchestra complements this well with uplifting brass numbers. The set itself is minimalist but surprisingly versatile and it is used to great effect by the choreographer and a talented supporting cast. At this point, I also have to note the hair – so many perms!
Perhaps appropriately in these times, our leads spend very little time together on stage, but McGuiness and Walsh (of The Wanted and Girls Aloud fame) are clearly talented vocalists. Both lean into their roles and McGuiness in particular oozes the faux-bravado of a young man comforting a motherless boy.
This then is clearly the feel-good production for parched musical lovers and anyone nostalgic for the film will find plenty to like. It feels like it could have been made the same year the film was released, but this is where some of the issues come in. A few jokes and most of the gender commentary falls flat. There is surprisingly little irony in this production, which leans very heavily into the idea that men don’t speak about feelings, women approaching thirty are desperate to catch a man and that those with allergies or unattractive laughs can be thrown under the bus without much compunction. As McGuiness says in his programme interview “there’s quite a lot of collateral damage that makes me cringe”.
I am not sure why the world needed a faithful adaptation of a 90s romantic comedy, but I came out smiling and after the last few months that was more than enough for me.
Guest Reviewer: Frederick Morgan