John Owen-Jones as Phil Hollinghurst (centre) and contestants in The Great British Bake Off Musical. Photo: PR
So far, there have been 13 seasons of the Great British Bake Off across the BBC and Channel 4. Despite this abundance of cakes, bakes, and tarts on screen each year, fans of the wholesome baking show want more – and now they’re getting it with a musical version on the West End. In the programme for The Great British Bake Off Musical, writers Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger say the musical is “the lost series of Bake Off” that’s not yet been aired, packed with its own quirky set of baking characters, goof-ball hosts, and sort-of serious judges.
Featuring a mix of ensemble numbers and solos, the The Great British Bake Off Musical should be the perfect addition to the BOCU (Bake Off Cinematic Universe) but trying to condense 10 episodes, or indeed several seasons, worth of Bake Off history into a two-and-a-half hour long show is difficult at best.
Almost every contestant has their own big musical number, giving the audience a flavour of their backstories told through song. There’s Hassan (Aharon Rayner), a Syrian immigrant who started baking to fit in with his classmates and gain acceptance despite a limited knowledge of English, and posh girl Izzy (Grace Mouat), a Cambridge graduate who wants to win at any cost simply because she has always been the best at everything.
Then there’s Italian cook Francesca (Cat Sandison), who sings about how there is no “bun in the oven” in the song Grow, using baking to deal with how she hasn’t been able to start a family of her own. Meanwhile Eastender Babs (Claire Moore) hopes for Paul Hollywood-lookalike Phil Hollinghurst (John Owen-Jones) to take romantic notice of her.
And that’s not the only inkling of love in the tent we get in this show, as widowed father and cop Ben (Damian Humbley) and the unlucky-in-love-and-life Gemma (Charlotte Wakefield) bond over their experiences of grief and are using Bake Off as a second chance.
Ben’s daughter Lily (Aanya Shah), who is also present for much of the show, applied to Bake Off on his behalf after he learned to bake with his late wife’s recipes and hopes for him to be less lonely and sad, as we learn in the song My Dad. Lily is an archetypal smart and sassy daughter character, akin to Lily Tucker-Pritchett (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) in Modern Family or Lisa Simpson.
When you watch Bake Off on TV, you care about a person’s backstory because you care about them and have watched them learn, speak, and grow throughout the show. With The Great British Bake Off Musical, there simply isn’t enough time to get to know each of the eight bakers and therefore, it’s difficult to care about them.
The ones whose personalities shine throughout the show are hosts Jim (Scott Paige) and Kim (Zoe Birkett) and judges Pam Lee (Hadyn Gwynne) and Phil, who bear a striking resemblance to real Bake Off judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood, as well as hilarious references to Lee/Leith’s penchant for boozy bakes and the famous Hollinghurst/Hollywood’s coveted handshake. Their songs include Slap It Like That, an innuendo-filled song about how to make a strudel, and I’d Never Be Me Without You, which is ostensibly a love song but focused on Pam and Phil’s platonic love as an iconic duo rather than anything romantic.
At the end of the day though, every character in The Great British Bake Off Musical is a satirical and exaggerated version of the ones we see on screen – even though the contestants are different, they are recognisable stories from the show that have been stripped of their substance and reduced to stereotypes to fill a couple lines of a song.
Speaking of songs, it is clear to me that many of the songs have influences from other well-known musicals that seem to fit directly into the stereotype of each character. Hassan’s interludes are Hamilton-esque raps, while Izzy’s song Obviously sounds similar to several songs in the Moss and Marlow hit Six and Rise, sung by Gemma, struck a chord by sounding like Lin Manuel Miranda’s lesser known cheerleader-inspired musical Bring It On.
Somewhere in the Dough has a beat reminiscent of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango and The Perfect Petit Fours, the only duet between love interests Gemma and Ben, would not seem out of place in Sara Bareilles’s Waitress.
Additionally, at the risk of sounding like a conservative pundit, there are elements of the show, both in the script and the lyrics, that feel as if ‘wokeness’ has been shoe-horned in to capture a certain audience. Sarcastic remarks about Liz Truss being free to compete, a joke about a woman being the first to have the idea to bake a cake rather than a man, and a vegan character who is extremely over-the-top about his desire to save the planet from climate change, feels a bit much when you’re watching a show designed to provide the escapism we all crave.
While it’s important to have diversity and inclusion at the heart of creative projects – especially for an adaptation of Bake Off, which regularly features people from all walks of life who are not necessarily British – sprinkling in social justice-y comments is not going to make any substantive difference in terms of ensuring a diverse cast, team, and storyline.
Then we have the ending. As someone who loves a happy ending and physically recoils when my favourite characters are experiencing any kind of real-world trouble, it seems likely that I would love the Bake Off musical, which provides a saccharine message that boils down to it not being about the destination (winning) but rather the friends you made along the way.
But this was a bit too sweet even for me. While the enduring legacy of Bake Off is that there isn’t the same level of competition or drama experienced in other baking or cooking reality shows in the world, the intensity you feel when the contestants are eagerly waiting for their cake to bake before the time is up is part-and-parcel of what makes Bake Off great – and the musical simply couldn’t bring that to life in the same way.
Overall, the musical is enjoyable if you’re not looking too closely at how it compares to the show or noticing too many of the on-the-nose metaphors and references scattered throughout. People around me were cackling and the cast, who are extremely talented, received a worthy standing ovation for their abilities.
Bake Off fans will probably enjoy this as an adaptation of their favourite baking programme, but not every cake requires that much sugar, and The Great British Bake Off Musical is no different.
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