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Review | 42 Balloons | The Lowry | 02/05/2024

Inspired by the true story of Larry Walters (played by Charlie McCullagh), comes new musical 42 Balloons. In 1982 Walters made headlines across the world when he took flight over LA, not by plane but by 42 helium filled weather balloons attached to a lawn chair! It sounds almost too unbelievably wacky to be true, but as the opening song says; “This actually happened, you can look it up after the show.”

It is perhaps not quite as outrageous as it sounds. At its core the show is fundamentally about having the drive and determination to realise your dreams. It’s also very much a story about love and the lengths people will go to for their each other, with Larry’s girlfriend Carol (Evelyn Hoskins) being the one to fund his expedition into the sky.

The show is strongly coded with humour and an endearing self-awareness. It is brought to life by an energetic ensemble who breathe an abundance of heart into the show. Each with their own personality and style they often lock eyes with the audience, making us feel part of the show. It is impossible to take your eyes off them, as they take full advantage of Milla Clarkes inspired set. Shaped like the inside of a balloon, the accomplished cast scale the curved walls with Alexzandra Sarmiento’s innovative choreography. The staging cleverly becomes a canvas for a series of exciting projections and live video feeds that transport the audience to the 1980’s.

McCullagh & Hoskins are utterly enchanting as our leading pair. Their chemistry will have you rooting for them; from laughing at their hilariously awkward first meeting to crying through their lows. We completely feel Larry’s desperation to make his dream a reality, whilst empathising with Carol’s struggle to understand it. They are truly mesmerising when performing together, with the beautiful blend of their voices in ‘Something as Crazy as This’ giving me goosebumps.

Gillian Hardie was a clear standout as Carol’s Mom. With impeccable comedic timing, the audience were in stitches as she explained her disapproval of Larry in ‘Somebody’s Story.’ It was a shame the story didn’t allow her more stage time, as she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand whenever she was on stage.

The show is almost entirely sung through, meaning that there are very few moments of spoken dialogue. This can often be the undoing of many a musical, where songs struggle to stand out, leaving the audience to lose interest. This couldn’t be further from the truth with Jack Godfrey’s genius compositions. Godfrey is undoubtedly the future of modern musical theatre. The music is unmistakably 80’s, whilst cleverly remaining both current and timeless. With nods to everything from Hamilton to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it is an absolute bopathon! 42 Balloons is the 80’s pop opera you didn’t know you needed. Musical theatre fans will pick up on influences as wide as Heathers and Rent, with the show still having its own clear identity. This is arguably the most exciting new musical since Six.

Very rarely do you hear such rapturous applause at a press night performance. This however isn’t just any show, it is something truly special. A cult following awaits, this is your next musical theatre obsession. With a blisteringly bright future ahead of it, claim your bragging rights by seeing it first. This is absolutely my show of the year and one of the easiest 5 stars I have had the pleasure of giving.

42 Balloons is on at The Lowry until Sunday 19 May 2024.

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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