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Great British Bake Off: The Musical review – sweet treat with a soggy bottom

The exquisite joy of Bake Off on TV is a total absence of drama, barring the occasional cut finger or (gasp!) a melted baked alaska. It’s comforting to rest a while in a place of such low stakes and high calories. Perhaps worried about prioritising style over substance (the ultimate Bake Off sin), Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) – who recently worked together on a musical adaptation of Adrian Mole – have over-egged their plot and tied the show together with a sickly sweet love story.

Many of the contestants are given their own big number, in which a series’ worth of personal revelations are unpacked in just a few reductive minutes. Syrian immigrant Hassan (Aharon Rayner) sings about how baking helped him feel as though he finally belonged in Birmingham, while Cambridge graduate Izzy (Simbi Akande) trills about her burning desire to win. In Grow – a song that stretches metaphor way beyond breaking point – Italian cook Francesca (Catriana Sandison) explores how making cakes helped her get over her difficulty conceiving a child.

Contestants raise wooden spoons and rolling pins in Great British Bake‑Off: The Musical.
Wafer-thin romance … Great British Bake‑Off: The Musical. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The main love story sees widowed dad Ben (Damian Humbley) hook up with the hapless and lonely Gemma from Blackpool (Charlotte Wakefield). It’s a wafer-thin romance, on which the entire musical precariously balances. Wakefield has a huge voice but the Frozen-esque levels of emotion in her big number, Rise – which director Rachel Kavanaugh underscores with tumbling waves of dry ice – feel far too big for a show this slight.

The best moments come from the woefully underused John Owen-Jones and Rosemary Ashe in the spoof roles of judges Phil and Pam. In Slap It Like That, Owen-Jones chucks about a piece of strudel like his life depends on it and handles Cleary’s music with such respect and skill that it suddenly sounds 10 times richer under his control. I’d Never Be Me Without You is a brilliant oddball duet and suggests how fun this musical might have been with less sugar and a larger serving of satire.

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