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7th May 2024

42 Balloons review: An inspiring musical about dreams, sacrifices and a lawn chair

Charlie McCullagh’s and Evelyn Hoskins’ elevated chemistry blew us away
42 Balloons review: An inspiring musical about dreams, sacrifices and a lawn chair
Photo: 42 Balloons @ The Lowry and 42 Balloons PR

The musical 42 Balloons received its world premiere at the Lowry recently, where it masterfully tells the real-life story of Larry Walters – a man who flew with the help of a lawn chair and a few balloons.

42 Balloons is a new musical that follows Walters’, who, assisted by his girlfriend Carol Van Deusen, used a lawn chair and 42 helium-filled weather balloons to fly 16,000 feet about LA in July 1982; fulfilling his lifelong ambition. The show’s central themes revolve around the importance of following your dreams, but also the sacrifices and hard choices people make to help others follow theirs.

The musical, with Jack Godfrey at the helm as the composer of the music, book, and lyrics, presents a fresh energy from the beginning. The use of the third person to describe what the character was doing or feeling took a while to get used to, but it was ultimately an effective narrative tool to emphasise that this was a real story.

42 Balloons
Photo: Pamela Raith @ The Lowry

The show is sung throughout to an 80s-inspired score, with a range from fun pop songs to sweet ballads that are beautifully arranged by Joe Beighton and are elevated by Alexzandra Sarmiento’s dynamic choreography. The excellent costumes by Natalie Pyrce helped to establish the 1980s settings, and the boiler suits adorned by the ensemble for the majority of the show gave a clever homage to flying suits. The show is hilarious, however, also creates space for some incredibly poignant and touching moments.

Charlie McCullagh gave a brilliant performance as the eccentric Larry, with his intentions and thought process feeling clear at every moment. This was best showcased during the second act when Larry’s life begins to break down, and his inconsiderate and self-serving nature becomes increasingly visible. Opposite him was Evelyn Hoskins, who plays Larry’s girlfriend, Carol, she was exceptional.  She brought so much heart and feeling to the show and gave both a hilarious and incredibly moving performance. The scenes between McCullagh and Hoskins were some of the standouts, as they had fantastic chemistry and a brilliant comedic dynamic. Both Lejaun Sheppard as Ron and Gillian Hardie as Carol’s Mom delivered humorous and heartfelt performances.  

Photo: Pamela Raith @ The Lowry

The ensemble was outstanding, with every single member bringing so much energy and enthusiasm to their roles. They were deployed effectively and frequently throughout the show, adding funny reactions and lines and sometimes breaking the fourth wall to remind everyone how bizarre the story is (“and you can look it up after the show,”). However, the breaking of the fourth wall could have been used more consistently or even have been advanced further to lean into the more playful and zany comedy that helps to characterise the show. 

The most captivating part of the show is its design, as all the elements impressively collaborated to create strong and cohesive visuals for the performance. Milla Clarke’s set was a raised, white curve that was almost balloon-like. This created a versatile and levelled performance space that was well utilised by Ellie Coote’s effective and slick direction. This set was elevated into an entirely new dimension by Andrzej Goulding’s projections, which were used to a consistently high standard throughout the production. The projections spanned multiple different mediums and stylised graphics to create immersive settings, reinforce elements of the production and add humour. 

Photo: Pamela Raith @ The Lowry

For instance, one of the highlights of the musical was when Larry appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, as live camera feeds of the onstage action were projected onto the curved set. This was extremely effective at emphasising how Larry had lost control of the narrative of his story and how the superficial world of television instead created the caricature of ‘Lawnchair Larry’ for public entertainment. Furthermore, during Larry’s flight, the combination of the projection of the sky with Bruno Poet’s skilful lighting design transformed the set into an almost immersive experience. 

Overall, 42 Balloons is an incredibly well-designed and well-performed new musical that has a lot of heart and sends audiences off with a feeling of inspiration. 

42 Balloons is performing at the Lowry until Sunday, May 19. Book tickets here and read more about the show here


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