The Great British Bake Off Musical at Noël Coward Theatre
There’s a lot of pressure when you’re adapting such an adored staple of British television culture into your next big musical. Everyone who goes in to watch this show is going to have expectations with a whole load of Bake Off tropes and customs that we’re going to be looking out for. Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, the creative duo behind this wonderful show, have been developing it for years. It started off in Cheltenham to glowing reviews and audience response before making its current transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre, where it’ll need to prove itself (no pun intended) to the West End crowds.
The show is sort of like the season of Bake Off which never was. We’re introduced to all of the contestants who are going to star in the new series, including Gemma (Charlotte Wakefield), the backup contestant who only got the call a few hours before the start of filming. We also meet the presenters, Kim and Jim (Zoe Birkett and Scott Paige), and of course, the hosts, Pam Lee and Phil Hollinghurst (played by the sensational Haydn Gwynn and John Owen-Jones, perhaps best well known for playing Mrs Willkinson in Billy Elliot and Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, respectively).
The performances from the whole cast are marvellous. Wakefield excels in the role of Gemma, finding all the nerves and heart and humour of this character, and showing off her incredible vocals in her solo numbers. There’s great comedy from Birkett and Paige, who have brilliant onstage chemistry. Gwynn and Owen-Jones both do a terrific job of celebrating some of the aspects and idiosyncrasies of real Bake Off judges, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood, whilst also finding ways of giving both of the characters a real sense of authenticity and originality, carefully making sure not to slip into caricature by not over-playing their personalities. Owen-Jones does however get Hollywood’s stance spot on, and Gwynn captures Leith’s smile and charm.
It’s hard to pick the standouts from such a tight ensemble, but Claire Moore is hilarious as Babs, one of the older contestants who is prone to accidental euphemisms. Moore finds so much charm in the character, we can’t help but root for her, and her lament at the end of the second half is a lot of fun. It’s a real show-stealing number! Cat Sandison delivers a tear-jerking song ‘Grow’ in the first act (even though the ‘bun in the oven’ metaphor at the centre of the song is slightly too on the nose). Grace Mouat is deliciously nasty as uppity Cambridge student Izzy and Michael Cahill gloriously camp as Russell.
Alice Power’s set makes effective use of moving workstations with Georgina Lamb’s choreography keeping the movement light on its toes. It’s probably Power’s cake design though which makes for one of the most hilarious moments, as the end of the first act closes with disastrous “tower” cakes which topple and explode all over the place. It’s the moment of Bake Off we watch through our fingers, and it creates a totally bonkers end to the first half of the show which is a real treat.
Some of the characters feel a tad stereotypical, and the storyline itself is a little cliché at times, but it is an incredibly entertaining night out, and I think on the whole does a great job at finding the careful balance between parody and something which takes itself a bit more seriously. Each of the characters has their moment to shine, and the whole cast work beautifully together to create something that feels really special. It has a limited run in the West End and is sure to be a huge crowd-pleaser among both Bake Off fans and those for who the musical is their first-ever experience of the famous tent.
Review by Joseph Winer
Created by Mark Goucher Productions in association with Creative Director and Executive Producer Richard McKerrow and the producers of the TV phenomenon, Love Productions, this heart-warming and funny new British musical has perfectly reimagined the nation’s favourite baking show.
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh [Wind in the Willows, Half a Sixpence], it features an original and witty score, written by multi-award-winning duo Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics), critically acclaimed as “one of musical theatre’s most dynamic writing partnerships.”
Inspired by the TV show this showstopper musical follows the amateur bakers as they seek to impress the judges and battle their way to be crowned Star Baker. The audience are taken on a rollicking journey of tap along songs and dance as the bakers face trials, tribulations, and baking failures along the way.
The original creative team includes: choreographer Georgina Lamb, set, costume and cake designer Alice Power, lighting designer Ben Cracknell, sound designer Ben Harrison, orchestrator Tom Curran, musical supervisor Mark Collins, and casting director Jim Arnold CDG.
The Great British Bake Off Musical
Noël Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU
25 February to 13 May 2023