©2013 Joan Marcus
From left, Stephanie J. Block, Rory O’Malley, Hannah Nordberg, David Rasche and Will Swenson in “LIttle Miss Sunshine”
Charm, like lightning, seldom strikes twice.
Even more so when that charm is as quirky as the brand found in “Little Miss Sunshine,” a 2006 indie film about the hapless Hoover family — misfits en route to a preteen pageant and, hopefully, a little good news for wanna-be beauty queen Olive Hoover. Along the way they grapple with an attempted suicide, cocaine addiction and looming bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, the new stage musical version by William Finn (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book and direction) — the same team behind “Falsettos” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” — at Second Stage Theatre doesn’t get in gear and can’t duplicate the movie’s magnetism. The show aims for poignancy, but ends up being corny. The story of underdogs — and who doesn’t love that — feels smaller now and inconsequential.
Finn is known for character-driven songs. His batch here is so-so and doesn’t give the story much traction. Except for the urgent group song, “Something Better Better Happen,” numbers come and go unnoticed, like milemarkers on the side of a highway.
Musical theater can do almost anything. But road trips are a challenge. Lapine goes low-tech and stages the family van as rolling yellow chairs — a kids’ theater concept that quickly gets tired. Another device that works marginally better is having a trio of popular mean girls represent awkward Olive’s insecurities.
While Will Swenson struggles with the role of unreliable family man Richard, the rest of the cast has nice moments. Stephanie J. Block brings sweetness and edge as wife Sheryl; Rory O’Malley is likable as Sheryl’s suicidal gay brother; David Rasche lets out his inner rascal as Grandpa Frank and Logan Rowland fumes as the silent son Dwayne.
Last but not least is the lovable Hannah Nordberg. When it comes to talent, there’s nothing small about this little miss.