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27 Jun 2012

The Spice Girls have reunited to launch Viva Forever!, a new West End musical based on their hit songs.

Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell helped unveil the show at a central London hotel on Tuesday.

"We're going to be introducing a whole new generation to Girl Power," Beckham said.

Written by Jennifer Saunders, the musical explores the "bitter reality of fame" brought by a TV talent show.

Viva Forever! opens at London's Piccadilly Theatre on 11 December.

The show is the idea of Judy Craymer, producer of Abba musical Mamma Mia!, who described Saunders as a "brilliant collaborator".

"She understands the anxieties in women, the fear of judgment and trepidation that one day they get to a certain age and become invisible," Craymer said.

The launch event was held in the neo-Gothic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, the location where the Spice Girls filmed the video for their breakthrough hit Wannabe in 1996.

Reunited on the same podium, the five ex-bandmates exchanged banter about Halliwell's exit from the group at the height of their fame in 1998.

"I've got to say these girls are amazing and brilliant and loving," said Halliwell.

"Every time I see them, and I don't see them that often, independently and collectively they're really lovely. I'm really grateful to have good friends like this."

"She's only saying that because she left," joked Chisholm, aka Mel C.

"To have our songs performed night after night in a theatre is an honour for us," Chisholm went on.

"My little boy doesn't know who we are, so I can't wait for him to see this," said Emma Bunton.

According to its producers, Viva Forever! is "the story of a beautiful, talented girl and her best friends who get swept up in the obsession of today's TV celebrity culture".

Craymer said Saunders' story would "embrace all generations".

"We listened to Spice Girls songs for nine months non-stop," she said. "Jennifer came up with a heart-warming family story that touches on celebrity today."

The show, Craymer continued, was "very much about the chaos that a TV talent show can bring on a family and friendship".

Saunders, the writer of TV comedy Absolutely Fabulous, said both she and her daughters had been Spice Girls fans.

"I remember the joy and energy and positivity that they brought, and I wanted to bring that to the story," she told reporters.

The musical will be directed by Paul Garrington, who has staged international productions of Mamma Mia! and Dirty Dancing.
'Jukebox' musical

Viva Forever! is the latest in a line of so-called "jukebox" musicals that use popular songs to score what is often a fresh storyline.

The commercial success of Mamma Mia! has helped fuel dozens of similar shows, such as Jersey Boys - featuring the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - and the Michael Jackson show Thriller Live.

Mamma Mia!, which opened in 1999, is booking in the West End until April 2013, while We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Yet other examples of the genre have enjoyed lesser success.

Despite winning an Olivier for best new musical, the Madness-based Our House closed in 2003 after 10 months in the West End.

The opening of Viva Forever! will coincide with that of The Bodyguard, a musical based on the 1992 Whitney Houston film that opens at the Adelphi in December.

According to theatre critic Mark Shenton, "the received wisdom on jukebox musicals is the band mustn't be alive or touring".

"I'm wondering if the Spice Girls are too familiar to need this treatment," he told the BBC News website.

"On the other hand if anyone can do it Judy Craymer can, because she created the trend and there have been many imitators in her wake."

The Spice Girls topped the charts in 31 countries with their 1996 debut single Wannabe and went on to sell more than 75 million albums worldwide.

The group created the 1990s mantra "Girl Power" and starred in their own feature film, Spiceworld, in 1997.

The Spice Girls disbanded in 2000 but reformed seven years later for a reunion tour.

Craymer said she was "thrilled" the five had shown "so much encouragement and support" about a musical she insisted was "not a tribute show".

"The positivity, energy, humour, excitement and friendships that encapsulated the Spice Girls and their songs have inspired the whole creative team," she added.

Previews of Viva Forever! begin at the Piccadilly on 27 November.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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