Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Why this was a stage too far for Spice Girls

Viva Forever!, the musical based on the hits of the Spice Girls, is to close

Viva Forever!? Viva Six Months!, more like. The closure of the Spice Girls musical followed a critical savaging and disappointing ticket sales.

The comparisons with Mamma Mia! (oh those exclamation marks!) were obvious – and rather damning.

Yes, Jennifer Saunders' script with its 'satiric' take on X Factor style talent shows was already two years out of date, but I suspect the root cause of the failure is rather more simple than that. For while Abba's back catalogue of hits could easily fill out a pleasant evening (listen to More Abba Gold and be shocked at just how good their 'lesser' hits were), the Spice Girls could barely warble enough songs to pass an hour.

Nine number ones sounds impressive but, apart from Wannabe and 2 become 1 (well, it was the Nineties), can you name the others? A bit like Westlife, there is a kind of amnesia when it comes to the actual songs. Dum de dum ... er ... I will be there ... de de de. How does Viva Forever Go? Or Let Love Lead the Way?

How unlike the oeuvre of Benny and Björn, where – even if we let on we don't like Abba or pretend to find them delightfully kitsch – we know every note and appreciate every overly enunciated syllable. And, of course, Abba had the advantage of two of the greatest songwriters since Lennon & McCartney – more, writers who seemed destined to write musicals.

Spice Girl singles may have been cultural phenomenons but Abba's were three minutes of pop perfection dwelling on the great themes – love, the loss of love, desire for money, sex and loneliness. If that isn't a description of what makes a good musical, what is?

It's the old story. Like them or not, Benny and Björn wrote their songs and meant every word.

There is a consistency of theme, pattern and tone which comes from a writing partnership.

The Spices did their best with iffy lyrics from a pop conveyor belt that eventually ran out of belt.

A few lines about girl power and loving your Mama doesn't quite cut it.

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