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REVIEW: 42 Balloons (The Lowry)

Updated: May 9

42 Balloons

A new musical by Jack Godfrey

Directed by Ellie Coote


The Lowry, Salford (world premier)

3 May 2024

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


42 Balloons review, The Lowry Theatre,  a new musical by Jack Godfrey

What makes a man want to fly in a lawn chair?

What makes a woman buy 42 weather balloons?


So asks new musical 42 Balloons by writer / composer Jack Godfrey.


After watching the world premier of this enchanting new production, the answer seems to me to be love... coupled with a little bit of madness, and the determination to never to give up on your dreams, no matter how impossible they seem.


Charlie McCullagh and the cast of 42 balloons the musical. Photo credit: Pamela Raith photography

What is 42 Balloons about?


In July 1982, truck driver Larry Walters took off in his homemade aircraft (a garden chair with 42 weather balloons and other paraphernalia tied to it) from the back of a house in Los Angeles. Larry flew for 45 minutes and reached a height of 16,000 feet before crashlanding in Long Beach. He soon became known as 'Lawn Chair Larry' and 42 Balloons is his story.


Yes, this really is a true story!


Larry had always been obsessed with flight, but poor eyesight prevented him from becoming a pilot. What happens when you just can't give up on your dream? How far would you go to scratch that itch? What would it cost you? And what happens after you've achieved it?


42 Balloons answers these questions and more. It's a loving tribute to a man who turned his dream into a plan, and who caused chaos above the skies of LA and in the lives of all those who loved him.


It's a comedy musical with a magnificent original soundtrack; it's an entertaining story delivered by an impeccable cast; and despite this being its world premier, it's the most polished production I've seen for years.


Lejaun Sheppard, Evelyn Hoskins, Charlie McCullagh and Gillian Hardie in 42 balloons the musical. Photo credit: Pamela Raith photography

The creativity and ingenuity that has gone into the technical delivery of this show is remarkable.


The curving and dynamic stage is certainly something I've never seen before. Like a cross-section from a skateboarding half-pipe, coupled with holds from a climbing wall and the interior design from The Death Star, the smooth, white surface I assume is meant to represent the inside of one of the massive weather balloons. Either way, it's an original use of a traditional stage space and a great basis for exhilarating choreography and direction.


The lighting and video design are sensational. Graphics blends seamlessly with the live action, and with flashes of dazzling light that come from nowhere, the stage seems to grow and contract just as is needed at all the right times and in all the right places. It looks stunning.


Clearly a huge amount of time and money has been spent on this show. Does a longer residency beckon elsewhere (The West End?)


Charlie McCullagh and Simon Anthony in 42 balloons the musical. Photo credit: Pamela Raith photography

The superb original soundtrack takes inspiration from cheerful 1980's pop music but also includes elements of hip hop. I could hear influences from Hamilton and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air alongside 1980's synth riffs, but mostly I could hear a playful, ingenious musical theatre score bursting with skill and joy.


The songs progress the storyline in a way that only original tracks can, and they are performed to perfection by the most impressive live band and charismatic company. The shows lead actors are wonderful, but what really stood out to me were the ensemble harmonies - they are jaw dropping in tone, clarity and precision.


The same goes for the dance and choreography that is expertly incorporated into the show. This is a company that is so well rehearsed that every move, every word feels deliberate and assured. Quality leaps off the stage and it is a delight to behold. A confident performance makes for a relaxed audience (and reviewer!) We are in very safe hands here.


Evelyn Hoskins and the cast of 42 balloons the musical. Photo credit: Pamela Raith photography

Leading the show as Larry Walters, Charlie McCullagh is bewitching, even down to his mesmerising moustache. Charlie has taken someone who is a complicated character and - let's be honest - a complete unknown to most of us, and through a beautiful, sensitive portrayal, has turned him into an alluring and likeable hero. Lawn Chair Larry is a character I will not forget in a hurry.


Evelyn Hoskins is perfect as sweet but spirited love interest Carol van Deusen. She had me in the palm of her hand for the entire show. Gillian Hardie brings the scepticism and comedy as Carol's mum; and it was midway through Lejaun Sheppard's epic number '1982' that I knew I would be booking another ticket to return to this show. Special mention to Simon Anthony whose turn as David Letterman was excruciatingly hilarious and painfully accurate. The casting team have outdone themselves here.


Charlie McCullagh and the cast of 42 balloons the musical. Photo credit: Pamela Raith photography

What makes a man want to fly in a lawn chair?

What makes a woman buy 42 weather balloons?

We will never know. But I for one am grateful to Larry Walters and Carol Van Deusen that they did. And to Jack Godfrey for his instinct and bravery in taking the most unlikely of stories and turning it into a remarkable new musical.


I beg you not to read into Larry's story further, nor to seek out any spoilers ahead of seeing 42 Balloons on stage. Go see this story unfold in the theatre and you will hopefully be just as charmed and shocked as I was. I left The Lowry feeling inspired to pursue my own dreams, and enthusiastic that original, contemporary and downright enjoyable new theatre is very much alive and well in the UK today.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


42 Balloons is at The Lowry in Salford until Sunday 19th May.

🎟️ Find out more and book tickets here: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/42-balloons/


⚠️ Age guidance 12+


⏰ Running time: Approximately 2 hours 20 minutes including interval


📸 Production photos: Pamela Raith Photography


42 Balloons musical The Lowry Reviews featuring Lisa in the Theatre


 

42 Balloons CAST

42 Balloons review, The Lowry Theatre,  a new musical by Jack Godfrey

Evelyn Hoskins Carol

Charlies McCullagh Larry

Gillian Hardie Carol's Mum

Lejaun Sheppard Ron

Simon Anthony Letterman

Jordan Broatch Ensemble

Maddison Bulleyment The Kid*

Athena Collins Ensemble

Morgan Gregory Ensemble

Matt Jones Swing

Luke Latchman Ensemble

Rebekah Lowings Cover Carol

Jamie Pritchard Cover Larry

Laura Dawn Pyatt Ensemble

Tinovimbanashe Sibanda Ensemble*

Natasha Wilde Swing*


Book, music and Lyrics Jack Godfrey


*At the performance of 42 Balloons I saw on Friday 3rd May 2024, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda played The Kid and Natasha Wilde was part of the ensemble.


 

42 Balloons review at The Lowry, Salford May 2024. Musical Theatre, Jack Godfrey, Evelyn Hoskins, Charlie McCullagh. World Premier new musical.


💗 I hope you all appreciate how difficult it was for me to write this review without saying the show was 'uplifting', or that it 'flies high' or 'soars'. It has been torture! ✈️


🎟️ Disclosure: I was invited to review this show and received a complimentary ticket in exchange. Neither the venue nor show has a say in what I write. I'm completely independent and invites have no impact on my analysis or star ratings.



📸 Find Lisa in the Theatre on Instagram and Twitter / X


Lisa in the theatre. Scottish theatre reviewer. UK theatre blog. Glasgow Theatre. Edinburgh Theatre. Scotland theatre.

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