After Mama Mia stormed the country and the world Judy Craymer, is hoping to strike gold a second time with a new show, this time featuring the songs of the Spice Girls .
Viva Forever! will open in the West End on December 11 and launched yesterday with all five Spices in attendance.
The show takes the same feel good formula that worked for Mamma Mia !, weaving a storyline about female friendship and mother-daughter bonding around some memorable pop tunes.
Jennifer Saunders is the scriptwriter, taking on her first West End musical. It took her all of 40 minutes from hearing about the project to signing up. “I couldn’t imagine anything I would want to do more,” she says when we meet in Craymer’s London office.
The heroine of her tale is Viva, a young woman who lives with her chaotic but loving mother. She enters a television talent contest with three friends but is made to ditch them and go solo.
Such shows demand a sob story, and when Viva confides that she is adopted, her mentor contrives to engineer a reunion with her birth mother live on air. It’s not giving too much away to say that, in the end, love conquers all.
The fictional talent show is a mishmash of The X Factor, The Voice and their like, and Saunders has an eye for the absurdities – and cruelties – of such programmes. “Like when they say, 'You haven’t heard the last of me…’ I’m sorry, we have. It’s a whole programme full of people you’ve heard the last of. I watch and enjoy them but I’m more horrified by The X Factor now because it’s so formulaic and it doesn’t allow for any sort of joy any more.”
Their friendship was forged in difficult circumstances. In October 2009, Saunders was diagnosed with breast cancer – now, thankfully, in remission – and she began working on Viva Forever! two months into her chemotherapy treatment. She credits the work with keeping her going, and laughing, through a dark time.
“It was a great thing for me. Judy used to come over and we’d sit and play these Spice Girls songs endlessly, because the first thing you have to do is listen to the lyrics and formulate a story,” Saunders says. “I’d keep saying to her, 'I might look rough but my brain still works!’ ”
Saunders has woven in elements of the Spice narrative – the rivalries, the insecurities – but Craymer is at pains to point out this isn’t a tribute show. “It isn’t just an excuse to put the Spice Girls’ songs on stage. It’s a beautiful story, properly told. Whether you like the Spice Girls or not you will love these songs within a musical.” The band certainly agrees, with Victoria Beckham hoping the show will introduce girl power to a whole new generation.
At the launch yesterday all 5 spices were in attendance. Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell -- or to use their more familiar monikers Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty and Ginger Spice -- were back together 12 years after they split and seven years since their reunion tour.
After such an eventful day the Spice Girls were itching to go out and celebrate last night. But two members of the band were not feeling in a party.
Victoria Beckham, formerly known as Posh Spice, left the Spice Girls reunion early because she wanted to put her baby daughter to bed. Melanie Chisholm, formerly known as Sporty Spice, had probably decided to have a quiet night in with her family after her busy and exciting day.
Information sourced from Reuters, Guardian, Telegraph and other online sources.