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Review round-up: Was the Sleepless musical the stuff of dreams?

The brand new musical has opened in the midst of a pandemic – here's what the critics thought

Kimberley Walsh as Annie and Tania Mathurin as Becky
© Alastair Muir

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★★

"Daily testing means that the cast are not noticeably socially distanced on stage; accommodation has been made with the constraints of a global pandemic, but this is still a musical as we know it. And a brand new one to boot.

"All of which makes me want to hug the producers Michael Rose and Damien Sanders with pure gratitude; there is no earthly financial reason to persist in staging this show which was suspended at dress rehearsal stage. That they have done so is an assertion of their faith in the power of theatre to make people feel better, the capacity of love to conquer all, and worthy desire to show that it is possible to put freelances back to work.

"There's much here to admire anyway. The show faithfully follows the story and the script of the Nora Ephron movie, about sad widower Sam (Jay McGuiness), whose son Jonah rings a national radio show to make a Christmas wish for a new love for his dad."


Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

★★★★

"There were moments watching Sleepless, whose timely message is to seize the day and go for it, when I had to pinch myself to check I wasn't dreaming. For all the sparseness in the auditorium (a 1,200 capacity has been curtailed to about 400), the plenitude of what's happening on stage is a source of disbelief: a sophisticated set accommodating a 12-strong orchestra; no discernible, off-putting distancing between the large singing, sometimes dancing cast. How is this possible? I didn't think we'd see work of this order until sometime after Christmas, if not way into the New Year."

"Kimberley Walsh and McGuiness have their share of big numbers, lustily sung – though a composed and beaming Walsh lacks the surplus naivety and suppressed panic that made Ryan sparkle. And though McGuiness, less twinklingly reticent than Hanks, suffers in the screen to stage comparison, he convinces as a struggling dad and overgrown little boy."


Kimberley Walsh as Annie and Jay McGuiness as Sam
© Alastair Muir


Clive Davis, The Times

★★★★

"We had to wear masks,and staff took our temperature. Still, all the safety procedures in the world couldn't dampen the excitement. Morgan Young's handsome production — built around songs by the British duo of composer Robert Scott and lyricist Brendan Cull — strips away the cloying sentimentality of the film and delivers a string of stylish, jazzy numbers that have all the poise of a Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh collaboration."


Nick Curtis, Evening Standard

★★★

"The only razzle-dazzle number is "Now Or Never", performed by the charming Jobe Hart as Jonah and Cory English as Sam's friend Rob. They milk it. But it doesn't matter. The emotional bones of the story remain strong.

"The set is wittily architectural. And there is something mad and brilliant about turning an American classic film into a musical in a big shed in Wembley in the middle of a pandemic. It is a joy to watch McGuiness take Walsh's hand and whirl her around in the finale. Such a simple act: so affecting now."


Marianka Swain, The i

★★★

"Admittedly, it's tough to sell the "com" of this romcom in such a vast, sparsely populated venue (400 down from 1,300), but the banter of Nora Ephron's film largely falls flat. Michael Burdette's book could have riffed more on the 90s setting; one of the best gags involves Annie surveying a new-fangled computer allowing her to work from home. Imagine!"

" Excellent are Harriet Thorpe as Annie's mother, Tania Mathurin as her wry boss, and the energetic double act of Jonah (Jobe Hart on press night) and Cory English as Sam's best pal Rob."

"Morgan Large's efficient set and Ian William Galloway's creative video projections whisk us between locations, with architectural drawings nodding to Sam's profession, while a 12-piece orchestra provides sterling support."


Harriet Thorpe as Eleanor and Kimberley Walsh as Annie
© Alastair Muir


Rosemary Waugh, The Stage

★★★

"Their talents as pop singers (Walsh with Girls Aloud and McGuiness with the Wanted) are clear. Walsh stands out for having vocals worthy of a Disney Princess. Great support comes from Tania Mathurin as Annie's down-to-earth best friend Becky."

"Throughout, the colour schemes of both costumes (Sue Simmerling) and set (Morgan Large) switch from greyscale to glossy Technicolor. The point of Sleepless: A Musical Romance is really the same as its narrative: to provide a flash of colour after a long period of darkness."


Matt Wolf, New York Times

"The closest "Sleepless" comes to a showstopper is a second-act duet, "Now or Never," for Hart and the musical theater veteran Cory English as Sam's ebullient friend, Rob. The song comes with its own reprise: "Shall we do it again, just from the key change?" And they do."

"Both known for their work with pop groups, McGuiness and Walsh prove amiable team leaders in a show that can't help but feel like an also-ran. You leave "Sleepless" pleased that it happened, and restless for more and better theater to come."


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