Since premiering at the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham in July 2022 to sell-out audiences, The Great British Bake Off Musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, transfers to the West End for a limited run at the Noël Coward Theatre.
After thirteen series The Great British Bake Off still commands a healthy TV audience of (we are told in the musical) 10 million viewers, so will this new musical comedy rise to the occasion and appeal to fans of the show? The proof is in the pudding!
The show starts as the TV show and we first meet presenters Jim (Scott Paige) and Kim (Zoe Birkett) doing a skit about the origins of baking and how the cave man (and woman) came to invent the oven and thus the cake. This nicely sets the tone of the comedy to come, as well as following the format of the successful TV show. We then move on to the first week introductions of the eight contestants and each contestant cleverly mirrors that of the typical mixed characters of past Bake Off contestants. We have Babs the cockney Gran, Ben the widower, Francesca the Italian would be mother, Hassan a student from Wembley, Russell the older gay man and Dezza the vegan hipster. Gemma is introduced as a last minute replacement contestant and is lacking in self-confidence, after living a sheltered life being the primary carer for her late mum. In contrast social influencer Izzy has bags of confidence and has no doubt that she will be the winner of the coveted cake stand trophy.
We are next introduced to the judges, Pam Lee, played by the talented and always delightful Haydn Gwynne and Phil Hollinghurst played by West End star John Owen-Jones. Both pull off great impersonations of Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood as they manage to embody their physicality and personalities, whilst never becoming over the top camp caricatures. Owen-Jones has the swagger and cheeky way of Paul, whilst Pam has the lively spirit of Prue, with a love of bright colours and boozy cakes.
As the show continues, we break away from the format of the TV show and the focus turns to that of the contestants, as we explore their back stories and follow their character development whilst progressing through the competition.
The main focus of all of their stories is on the budding relationship between Ben and Gemma. Both take a journey throughout the competition, Ben (Damian Humbley) getting over the death of his wife, with the help of 9 year old daughter Lily who entered him into the competition and Gemma (Charlotte Wakefield), growing in confidence after becoming star baker, much to the continued displeasure of panto villain and saboteur Issy (GraceMouat).
There are many crowd-pleasing moments such as Slap It Like That, a suggestive dance routine about (ahem) slapping your dough in order to make the perfect Strudel, which is cleverly based on real moment from the TV show. Pam’s solo dance number Keep On Keeping On, complete with sequined apron wearing dancers and the slapstick end of the first half song All the Way, which has the bakers presenting their signature bakes of ice cream sky scrapers in soaring tent temperatures, are both great fun.
Musically, there are influences of shows such as Wicked, Witches of Eastwick and Chicago, which is evident with Pam’s aforementioned Razzle Dazzle style dance number, which opens the second half and her duet with Phil, I’d Never Be Me Without You, that has shades of Velma’s song of desperation, I Can’t Do It Alone.
There isn’t a weak link in the cast and all are convincing within their given characters. Credit should go to West End legend Claire Moore as Babs, who raises the roof with her lust-filled paean for Phil, Babs’ Lament, after spending the entire show rubbing him up the wrong way. Charlotte Wakefield as Gemma shows off her powerhouse voice in Gemma’s big Wicked infused number Rise, as the duckling finally turns into a baking swan.
A musical sweet-treat confection – ★★★★