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42 Balloons

42 Balloons

2nd of July 1982.

Using a lawn chair and approximately 42 helium-filled weather balloons, truck driver Larry Walters  defied all the odds (and FAA airspace regulations!) to make his lifelong dream a reality and fly sixteen thousand feet above Los Angeles.
No, seriously. In a chair.

42 Balloons is an uplifting musical inspired by the highly improbable true story of how Larry, and his partner Carol Van Deusen, convinced their friends and family to help Larry achieve his lifelong dream - to fly.

Featuring an irresistible, 80s pop-inspired score, 42 BALLOONS questions how far you would go to make your dreams come true. Is the sky actually the limit, and what happens if it doesn’t all go to plan?

Age Guidance: 12+ (Contains mild swearing and themes of suicide)

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42 Balloons ON TOUR

Our review on 42 Balloons

42 Balloons - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 2nd May 2024 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating

Holy helium!  I have seen a lot of musical theatre in my life but I have never seen anything like 42 Balloons!  From the heart and with genuine admiration – what have I just witnessed?  It has a look, a vibe, and a future all of its own.  One thing I’m sure of is that no one will be bursting their weather balloon bubble any time soon.  And so it is we meet Larry Walters, unassumingly nestled away in America with a dream.  A dream he has harboured since childhood to fly above Los Angeles.  As his dream grows stronger by the day, he meets Carol, who lovingly tries to steer him away from the most bizarre plan she may ever have heard.  But dreams don’t go away just because someone else doesn’t hold them in the same way you do.  And so eventually Carol supports him, finding a way to fund this $15’000 flight.  With the additional help of his friend Ron and Carol’s mum, a plan is formulated that on 2nd July 1982, Larry Walters will fly above the skies of Los Angeles in a lawn chair and 42 weather balloons.  If you think this is all a bit far fetched and that musical theatre folk have finally 5,6,7,8’d themselves into delirium – think again!  As we are wittingly reminded throughout the show – this is a very true story.  Look it up!  But even with all the meticulous planning in the world, we discover that dreams can cost a lot of money, they can surprise you with unexpected details and throw things a little off course – 9’000 ft off course to be precise!  We are left asking, what happens after you achieve your dream?  What do you do with yourself then?  Carol is left with huge debts to pay, Larry is left bewildered and misunderstood, and a kid in Long Beach is left with a story to tell that no one will believe in school on Monday!   

42 Balloons
is a new musical that most definitely looks up and views things from every angle possible.  Right from the start I was hooked, with the show quite literally opening up in a way I have never seen before, revealing something I have never seen before!  We are teased to glimpses of the floating chair and balloons before revelling in a panoramic 180 stage, sloped up from stage to sky, creating curves, slopes, and new dimensions.  It has footwells that allow performers to climb, sit, or just hang out, totally engrossed in this true story as it unfolds before everyone’s eyes.  This set up means the stage becomes one huge projector screen, but even these video designs are not the obvious that you may be imagining.  Award winning Andrzej Goulding has done it again!  Whether the animations are taking inspiration from the decade of music videos, blinding us with science, following Larrys altitude, or transporting us to the David Letterman Late show and infusing live feeds, you will be blown away at the unique and exciting design of this show.  And just when you think you have been amazed enough, Milla Clarke’s set design turns into a set reveal!  But I’m giving no more away.  With a neon sign dropping in and out to help feed us juicy details, no more is needed in this slick production, with just the odd table, sofa and lawn chair completing the story. 

Sung throughout, Jack Godfrey has boldly written book, music and lyrics using a tapestry of classic, Brechtian, and modern styles to present us with this true tale of following your dreams.  Signs give us information, the V effect is used often to distance the actor from the character they are playing, so they present their story and talk about them in the third person, before absorbing the character once again.  This subconsciously forces the audience to witness the actions of the character objectively rather than judging them, a decision which you ultimately come to realise is so beautifully respectful to the real Larry’s story after the humiliation he faced at the hands of the media.  Its presentation is such a breath of fresh air, giving a deep clean and modern musical make over to so many loved and traditional theatre methods.  The ensemble are the modern day equivalent to a Greek Chorus, working together to comment on the story, usher it along through questions, storytelling and through playing different characters as and when needed.  They are watching the story unfold just as we are, and share in our delight, our befuddlement and our disbelief, as is evident on their faces at all times.  In short, this musical is clever and screams its love of theatre.  It is full of respect, love, humour, honour, and dreams.

As mentioned, 42 Balloons is sung throughout, a whole heap of fantastic songs blending together to create this one of a kind musical.  There is an eclectic whirlwind of styles that effortlessly come together as one.  Heavily influenced by the 80’s with power ballads, pop, rock, synth pop, it also has very smart influences and homage paid to the best and most successful musicals including Hamilton, Six, and Les MisJack Godfrey has an impressive, and I would even go as far to say ‘genius’ skill of bringing the best together, even if it seems they don’t belong together.  Who would have thought that Hamilton, The Fresh Prince Of Belair and Lynryd Skynyrd could all meet up in one song without clashing?  Jack Godfrey – that’s who, because it’s exactly what we get in the epic song 1982Blow gives us synth pop and Six vibes, Helium offers up pure musical theatre power ballad heaven and I am sure is going to be sung by many an auditionee in the future, whilst Somebody’s story gives us a soulful, sultry and blues delight.  There are moments of pure a capella and the result is glorious, emotional, and displays the unwavering talent of this cast.  Returning musical motifs are sprinkled throughout, ensuring you will leave with this music firmly lodged in your inner playlist.

Charlie McCullagh
(JCS, Annie Get Your Gun, Dr ZhivargoIn Concert) is the perfect casting for this geeky, spaceman, dreamer, bringing a warmth, humbleness and compassion to the role.  He makes Larry so instantly likeable with his quirky ways, ensuring that we laugh with him and never at him.  In fact, director Ellie Coote has beautifully ensured this is the case throughout.  McCullagh brings Larry’s dream to life before our eyes and allows us to understand his drive.  He evokes empathy, has a cheeky twinkle in his eye, and absolutely soars with his vocals.  This is a performance to behold and I know I have seen something very special.  Alongside Larry is his partner of ten years Carol, performed by the outstanding Evelyn Hoskins (Gypsy, Waitress, Assassins).  This is a divine partnership as Hoskins knows exactly how and when to bring humour and when to bring heartache.  Her rendition of Helium will make your spine tingle, yet she will also leave you belly laughing in her reactions to Larry, whilst still always displaying adoration and love for him.  The balance is so spot on, it allows for fun, self mocking, and hard realities. 

Gillian Hardie
(Mamma Mia, Kinky Boots, Blood Brothers) is wonderful as Carol’s mum, expertly pulling off the tricky Somebody’s Story that has brilliantly witty lyrics but with a serious message, set against an emotive and blues style melody.  She is always on the look out for Carol and manages to provide that delicate balance between being a mother bear and letting your child be free.  It is a heady mix of humour, maternal love, and loyalty that we see in Carol’s mum and it’s great.  Lejaun Sheppard (Hansel And Gretel, Come From Away, The Book Of Mormon) is Larry’s friend Ron, who is brought on board as ground crew because, well, he has a camera, and Larry needs this entire thing evidencing.  Sheppard is cool, full of fun, enthusiastic, and unwaveringly supportive as Ron, resulting in an addictive performance and has the audience in stitches with his mannerisms, the cheeky ‘side eyes’ he gives us to let us know exactly what he is thinking, and does a brilliant job in the aforementioned song 1982.  The entire cast are so in unison, so tight and clearly all on the same page and proud of their show.  It completely shines through that they are not just ging through the motions, and in turn, we all became fans in an instant.

There is so much to rave about 42 Balloons.  From the opening Prologue that makes you feel like you have been thrown into a 1980’s film fuelled with optimism, hope and potential, to the strong themes and messages throughout of having a dream, of chasing them, and encouraging them in others.  It really does make you think and have a mini life assessment!  42 Balloons is so proudly the dream of Jack Godfrey and I am genuinely honoured to have watched this dream come true, because in turn, I can guarantee it will have encouraged so many watching to chase their dreams too.  I also have to mention the Larry dance, as I have been personally referring to it, for he has these couple of moves that had everyone in stiches and are so iconic.  The Larry dance has the potential to be one of those things that has a spin off life of its own, with t-shirts, and people ‘doing the Larry!’  It’s brilliant.  I also loved that the programme fully included the creatives with the same exposure as the cast, including pictures and putting them front and centre.  I have never seen this before and it is a very respectful and classy touch.    I cannot stress it enough – GO AND WATCH 42 BALLOONS whilst you still can because this musical is going to be the next big thing and tickets will be impossible to get.  We have its premiere right here right now and I will be going again for sure.  On the surface, this may seem like a strange story for a musical, or just a strange story full stop, but it isn’t.  It is about the courage to follow your dreams and to have the conviction that they can and will come true.  The ending packs a powerful punch that even though I knew the facts of the story, I was so not ready for the delivery and the tears and wobbling lip that appeared from nowhere.  It gets you.  Really gets you and offers a huge wake up call to how we treat ourselves and others for thinking differently.  Well Larry, no one is laughing at you now, so keep looking up and dream big. 


Watch our "In Conversation with Charlie McCullagh & Evelyn Hoskins" video


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