I have to admit to being thrilled to be invited to review this show. Who hasn't got engrossed in British Bake Off? With the frequent dramas in the tent, the heat, the collapsed towering showstoppers, the inference of sabotage, and the infamous 'soggy bottom', but mostly the inspirational talent of a bunch of amateur bakers has proved a huge hit both in the UK and the USA. Turn all of that into a musical, and it has all the ingredients of a hit (see what I did there!)
The show starts with a cave man and women discovering the power of baking, and naming it 'cake' - and thus we meet our hosts for the evening, Kim and Jim, played by Zoe Birkett and comedic stage star Scott Paige. These are characters in their own right, not pastiches of Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig. Scott Paige's comic timing throughout the show is a pure delight, and he looks as if he's thoroughly enjoying himself.
We get introduced to the contestants one-by-one, and they are a diverse bunch indeed. Gemma from Blackpool, who is a flustered replacement contestant. Jezza the creative vegan activist, Izzy the privileged pretty girl who always comes first and who's in it to win it, Russell a precise and snappily dressed middle-aged gay man, 17 year old Hassan from Wembley who bakes by instinct not from a recipe, Francesca the Italian schoolteacher longing for her own child, Babs 'not Barbara' the chirpy cockney woman who's already had 3 husbands and has her eye on Phil Hollinghurst one of the judges, and Ben the policeman who follows his wife's recipes.
The judges are the blue-eyed, silver fox Phil Hollinghurst (Paul Hollywood) played by award-winning West End and Broadway star John Owen Jones alongside the amazing Haydn Gwynne as the colourfully stylish, sharp-tongued Pam Lee (Prue Leith).
A miniature Phil roars onto the stage on a miniature motorbike, which is to play a bigger role latter in the musical.
The songs, written by multi-award-winning duo Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) are varied in style and pace. They take us through ensemble funny pieces such as 'Slap your Strudel', longing solos - Francesca's desire for her bun to grow, another ensemble piece - an ode to Phil sounding very like a Take That's 'Pray'. The lyrics are witty, and at time smutty in a good way, especially Babs song about her crush on Phil.
As you would expect from the subject matter; we see friendships form, jealousy rear it's head, an injured contestant leaving the show, baking triumphs and baking disasters (this wouldn't be complete without the non-setting ice-cream sabotage, melting show stoppers, and the bin episode), and there's even a little romance blossoming.
As the musical progresses we learn a little more about each persons back-story, they each have very different reasons for becoming bakers and entering the competition, and they become more three dimensional to us.
The symbiotic relationship between the judges and the hosts are also explored in a duet between Phil and Pam in a song that felt very reminiscent of the 1930s 'Let's Call the Whole Thing Off'. It celebrates how they compliment each other, and this is reprised by Kim and Jim.
The whole cast is very strong, but the stand-outs for me were: Haydn Gwynne in her 1950s Hollywood inspired song and dance routine - wow those legs and that dancing were amazing, and Claire Moore as Babs. Claire's performance had great comic timing, a zest for life, and she brought the house down when she belted out her song about Babs' lust for Phil.
This is a really witty, funny, well sung and performed show. It's only on for a short run, so to paraphrase "On your mark, get set, see Bake Off the Musical"
Where: Noël Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU
When: 25 February to 13 May 2023 Book online here
Tickets starting from £22.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (I walked from Charing Cross which was less than 10 minutes)