My Night with the Spice Girls (not to mention Lord Lloyd Webber, Miranda Hart, Cilla Black, David Beckham and Michael Caine)

Philip Fisher
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Our editor is of the view that accountants love reading about celebrities. In this case, not only did your columnist spent several hours with hundreds of A list superstars but also got a chance to evaluate the West End's much-maligned, newest musical, Viva Forever!

What is it about famous people that gets us all so excited? Whether it is a royal pregnancy, a racist sportsman or philandering popstar the media goes mad.

There could be earthquakes in Japan or tsunamis in the South Seas but if any celebrity really does get out of there, global scale tragedies will be pushed on to page 5 of the former broadsheets, and disappear completely from the tabloids as we hunger for more scandals from last night's TV.

In that context, spending a night in the theatre with all five Spice Girls, innumerable beautiful people had enough good names to drop every night for a year, if only I had recognised everyone, really is worth talking about.

At the office the following day, it was hard to keep quiet and everybody who heard the story was green with envy but enthusiastic to learn more.

In this way, meeting celebrities generates its own kind of celebrity, if that makes any kind of sense?

There was another side to the night out at the Piccadilly Theatre. This was the world premiere of a brand-new jukebox musical Viva Forever!, which is based on the songs of the Spice Girls.

To be frank, despite the efforts of Jennifer Saunders, who has written the book, it is hardly a high art. The jokes are rarely fresh, the characterisation pretty minimal and the storyline predictable.

However, this band is one of the most popular of the last couple of decades and there will now undoubtedly be many devotees who will pay top dollar to enjoy their songs performed live on stage, complemented by some kind of a story written by a TV celebrity and created by the ever popular Mamma Mia's producer and progenitor Judy Craymer.

In that light, it is fascinating to see the ambush created by almost every critic who has written about the show.

There is no question that viewed through the critical microscope it is lacking but no more so than many other jukebox musicals, which must be distinguished from high-quality rock operas such as Green Day's American Idiot.

However, there are far worse ways to spend an evening, especially if you like this kind of music, together with a relatively spectacular light show and choreography.

The first line of the British Theatre Guide review has turned out to be entirely prophetic (and that is not merely boasting). "Viva Forever! is one of those jukebox musicals that critics love to hate but audiences just love".

Well that is assuming audiences really do decide to love it, as they have equally panned jukebox musicals such as We Will Rock You, which runs on successfully despite the efforts of the critics to give it a stillbirth. Advance bookings that reputedly reached £4 million suggest that this is not going to be the worst stage disaster of the year.

It is very difficult, as a critic, to split yourself in two and both present fair criticism of work that is not of the highest order while at the same time acknowledging that the general public may well be much happier spending their money on jukebox musicals, however good or bad, than the best that subsidised theatres such as the National can provide, even the wonderful Timon of Athens featuring Simon Russell Beale or James Graham's political drama, This House.

After all, look at the dross that is trotted out on TV every Saturday night (or preferably don't), which will get better viewing figures than anything apart from the FA Cup final (assuming that it is still on terrestrial TV).

We would all like to believe that accountants are a cut above the man in the street and that may well be the case. However, it is a good bet that the heading of this column will make it very popular, though not on the typical Saturday night when, like everyone else, they will probably be watching Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother or Britain's Got Talent.

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