42 Balloons
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: The Lowry, Salford
Cast: Charlie McCullagh, Evelyn Hoskins, Gillian Hardie and Lejaun Sheppard

42 BALLOONS is an uplifting musical inspired by the highly improbable true story of how Larry, and his partner Carol Van Deusen, convinced their friends and family to help Larry achieve his dream of flying.

Featuring an irresistible, 80s-style pop score, 42 BALLOONS questions how far you would go to make your dreams come true. Is the sky actually the limit, and what happens if it doesn’t all go to plan?

42 Balloons tells the story of a modern day Icarus with a crazy dream and the balloons to achieve it.

Initially staged as a concert in London, the full production found a home at The Lowry in Manchester, which is starting to get a reputation as the incubator for the new generation of British theatre (like recent Olivier award-winning Operation Mincemeat, for example).

It is incredibly exciting to see a show come into a space and transform it, to take the stage and make it into a piece of art in and on itself, which is exactly what 42 Balloons does through very clever use of design, lighting and projections. If there was a ever a material that would benefit from lateral thinking and inventive use of the vertical space, this is IT. Even though audio-visual elements are featured prominently, they are used in such a way that it helps to elevate (pun intended) the performances, as opposed to distract from them.

Speaking of the performances, I must start by highlighting the undeniable chemistry built between the members of the cast, not only the two leads (which were of course absolutely brilliant — more on them later), but amongst everyone on stage. The ensemble's playfulness, Ron and Larry, Carol and her mother, every moment of interaction was a carefully crafted moment that added to the charm and depth of the piece.

Charlie McCullagh (Jesus Christ Superstar, Annie, Get Your Gun) and Evelyn Hoskins (Waitress, Assassins) reprise their roles from the concert and establish themselves as rising talents to watch out for. (Oliviers 2025, anyone?)

McCullagh’s charm and singing prowess puts him up there with audience favourites like Aaron Tveit and Jamie Muscato, and for good reason: he brings such a level of ingenuity and vulnerability to this role that it’s impossible not to love his performance.

Evelyn Hoskins' Carol is the epitome of sweetness and freshness, and giving her the space to explore her character’s frustrations through the recent addition of Helium (new for this run, missing from the concert) is simply inspired. You can see why she was such a perfect casting for Dawn in Waitress, but seeing her now it’s easy to see how much she’s grown as a performer and expanded her range to deliver the quirkiness we know and love, but also the heartbreak and the anger needed for Carol.

The music! This show is what 80s synth-pop dreams are made of. Every song has something unique, (and the undeniable potential to get stuck in your head for the foreseeable future), but they all retain that bop-py identity that will make them instantly recognisable as 42 Balloons in years to come when they are being sang in musical theatre karaoke nights all over the world.

I left The Lowry feeling like I saw something truly special, fresh and unique; like right now we are witnessing the beginning of a new wave of theatre about to take the world by storm. Hopefully the first stop in this show’s journey up to stardom will be London’s West End, because I for one can’t wait to watch this again at least another 42 times.

You can catch this at The Lowry before it flies away on May 19th!

You can book tickets to see 42 Balloons at the Lowry, here.

Review by Luma

**photo credit: Pamela Raith**

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