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REVIEW: Billionaire Boy

Will this madcap musical adaptation of David Walliams's best-selling children's book be flushed with success or just bog standard? Muddy rolls up at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre to check it out.

David Walliams’s 2010 hit novella about Joe Spud, a 12-year-old billionaire, whose dad has revolutionised the loo roll industry, is the perfect vehicle for some toilet humour. But will Jon Brittain’s musical adaptation be flushed with success or just bog standard?

Well, it definitely put bums on seats at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre! There was a full house at press night, packed with families and only a few tickets are remaining for the entire run. Last night the atmosphere was positively bristling with excitement in anticipation.

A modern comic morality tale, Billionaire Boy is a story about how fame and money can’t buy you love, friends and in Len Spud’s case – hair (although Wayne Rooney may dispute this). He spends a fortune on frankly awful toupees.

Not familiar with the plot? Widower Len has become mindbogglingly rich overnight after inventing Bum Fresh – a toilet roll that’s moist on one side, dry on the other. But his only son Joe is tired of notoriety and caviar for tea – all he wants is to be “an ordinary Joe”. He’s “a lonely Billy no-mates” at his posh private school, known as ‘the Bum Fresh boy’. Refusing his dad’s offers of Eton or Harrow, he just wants to go to the local comp.

An energetic and playful eight-strong cast includes a youthful-looking Ryan Heenan who plays Joe, Lem Knights, a finalist on The Voice, as Joe’s sympathetic new best friend Bob and Eleanor Kane as his kick-boxing love interest Lauren. Dean Nolan gives show-stealing performances as nouveau-riche Len and school dinner lady Mrs Trafe; while Sophia Nomvete – excellent in the RSC’s recent quirky musical Miss Littlewood and Roman romp Vice Versa – is equally strong as Bob’s mum and multiple other roles.

Avita Jay also has fun doubling up as one of the book’s most popular characters, lettuce-throwing shopkeeper and amateur inventor Raj, who talks directly to the audience, and Sapphire Stone, Len’s brash gold-digging girlfriend, a reality TV star 17 years his junior.

Joe learns all about the real world with Bob’s Mum

Children sitting in the audience around us were completely engaged with the story, but weren’t roaring with laughter. Well-received nationally by critics, there’s plenty to keep them entertained from guitar toting pupils to the bleeping out of swear words by the two school bullies, lively choreography and musical numbers by song writing duo, Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler. As part of song writing team Xenomania, the pair were responsible for hits by Sugababes, Kylie Minogue, Alesha Dixon and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. In the song, The Real World Bob’s mum teaches Joe how to make a Shepherd’s Pie, and there’s a fun duet by Joe and Lauren comparing their mutual love of Star Trek and Cheesy Wotsits. I liked the lyrics of Joe’s rebellious number when he runs away from home declaring – ‘I’m a pint-size renegade’ but then asking, ‘How am I going to sleep without any pyjamas?’.

Afterwards my daughter and friend, both big fans of Walliams’s books, confessed they found the love-story a “bit cringe-y” – as 10-year-olds do. They totally enjoyed the musical and thought it was “really cool and funny”.

There were gags mostly involving Len that had many parents sniggering into their cappuccino’s, or ice-cream tubs.

This touring production directed by Luke Sheppard, is set in a familiar very British world, capturing the awkwardness of growing up packed with bottom-wiping puns, lots of silliness, daft quick-fire jokes and toying playfully with stage conventions (there’s even an Epilogue song).

If I was to be picky (hey, it’s my job to tell you the truth!), there were one too many songs and the first half felt slower than the second. It may not be as polished or witty as say, Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock: The Musical, but I imagine parents will hope its heartfelt, sentimental anti-materialist message, that money and fame don’t buy happiness, resonates with their offspring. After all, Walliams himself says: “I wrote the book when I was really falling out of love with the idea of being famous”.

Billionaire Boy runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, until Sat Feb 23.  Limited availability! Tel: 024 7655 3055, or belgrade where prices are cheaper.  

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