Since it premiered in 2010, “The Great British Bake Off” has become a beloved cultural phenomenon. At its heart, the popular TV show, which follows amateur bakers engaged in friendly competition, is designed to be a wholesome, feel-good viewing experience. The idea that contestants could break out into song while piping choux pastry doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
On Monday, The Great British Bake Off Musical opened in London’s West End. The production follows a group of quirky contestants inspired by recurring tropes from the TV show, such as the hipster who only bakes with vegan ingredients or the endearing nan with an old-school swagger.
Audiences will also get to see singing look-alikes of the TV show’s hosts: Paul Hollywood becomes Phil Hollinghurst (played by John Owen-Jones) and Prue Leith becomes Pam Lee (played by Haydn Gwynne).
“There’s something of a rummage-sale feel to Cleary and Brunger’s eclectic score, which draws upon such diverse sources as Cole Porter (a jaunty duet for the judges) and Stephen Sondheim,” writes the New York Times’ Matt Wolf. The second act begins “with a sequined dance number that could have come from Follies.”
Showrunners had been toying with the idea of staging a musical for years, reports the Independent’s Isobel Lewis. But when Cleary and Brunger pitched their vision for the production, that idea started to become a reality.
“I think that they completely understood the tone of what we wanted, so that it is witty without being satirical,” director Rachel Kavanaugh tells the Independent. “It’s not pantomimic, it doesn’t lampoon the show, it doesn’t lampoon the characters; nor is it worthy and earnest. They steer a very clever course in the writing, with emotion, and heartfelt stuff and lovely romantic stuff, but also stuff that’s properly funny.”
The musical debuted last summer in the town of Cheltenham, England. Now at the Noël Coward Theater in London, it will run through May 13.
So far, reviews have been mixed. But even critics who question some of the production’s artistic decisions still praise its heart. As the Times writes, “the musical’s likability is never in question, even if its craft sometimes is: You can’t help wishing the creators had been as exacting with their own material as some of the contestants are with their ovens.”
Alice Saville at Time Out thinks that one of the show’s greatest strengths is missing from the musical. “The thing that makes real-life episodes of ‘Bake Off’ enjoyable is the spontaneity, creativity and strangeness of ordinary people,” she writes. “You can’t predict mishaps like Series 4’s ‘wrong custard’ debacle, or invent characters like real-life whimsical baking witch Helena (Series 8).”
But while the musical lacks the show’s spontaneity, its antics are sillier; audiences will witness everything from cake-baking cavemen to boxing scones.
“It’s fun and it’s funny, but it’s moving too, so I think [audiences] will get a lot from it,” Gwynne tells the Independent. “Heartwarming can be a cheesy word, but I think the sophistication and the quality of the writing and the lyrics will surprise you.”