Mrs Doubtfire - Shaftesbury Theatre
Stars are on the way dears
Movie to musical adaptions are often plagued with dodgy reputations, half-baked ideas, and left reeking of producers attempting to squeeze every penny out of an ageing franchise. But fear not poppets, this musical is quite the opposite! Mrs. Doubtfire is a shining example of how to faithfully translate a beloved story from screen to stage, elevating the heart of the piece to new heights and expanding on the story beyond what was possible in the original. With a marvellous book, cheerful numbers and simply soaring performances from the entire cast, I left with a full heart and grinning from ear to ear.
The plot stays close to the path of the original, comfortable to meander when necessary to fit the new medium. It follows the breakdown of Daniel and Miranda Hillard’s marriage, and their three children caught in between. The jobless Daniel, in a bid to keep seeing his children, applies to be their nanny under the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire, Scottish accent, wig and all. Slapstick antics follow closely behind as he endeavours to keep up the lie and somehow get his real life back on track in the process.
The book treads carefully through the conflict of the Hillard’s divorce, consistently emphasising that it is no one’s fault and affirming that there is beauty in the non-traditional family set-up. Instead of relaxing into the predictable trope of lazy dad or uptight mum it neatly humanises both sides, recognising the struggles and differences whilst placing the more innocent outlook of the children’s perspective front and centre. I found it deeply moving as the family, through Daniel’s hijinks, seek to understand one another better, always wanting the best for the children. The pace slackens slightly in the second half, as often musicals do, but there is rarely a beat wasted, the story imbued with momentum and emotion gifted time to simmer and permeate. Yes, this is not a perfect show but if you allow your inner child to swept up in the fun of the evening, those niggling and bizarre plot points vanish completely.
Gabriel Vick is a marvel as Daniel building gracefully on the foundations set by the legendary Robin Williams 30 years ago, yet free to bring his own unique flair, humour and warmth to the role - a chameleon when shifting between the characters. His stamina is a miracle, swiftly changing in and out of the Doubtfire costume countless times, rattling off an endless arsenal of pin-point accurate impressions needed for Daniel’s job as a voice actor, all whilst keeping up pace with the talented ensemble’s choreography - the loop pedal scene is something special. His physicality is equally stupendous and in combination with the outstanding work of the prosthetics team, his performance still sparkles through the Doubtfire getup. This is a demanding role which he commits to magnificently - get this man a medal!
Opposite Vick, Laura Tebbutt delivers a tender and authentic performance as Miranda, consistently questioning whether she did the right thing in calling time on their relationship all the while trying to rebuild the world around her. In her beautifully sung ballad “Let Go” we truly understand the emotional conflict churning inside, coming to terms with what she has lost - a profound and stirring moment.
So much of the heart of this show lies within the three children, Lydia (Carla Dixon-Hernandez), Christopher (Frankie Treadaway) and Natalie (Angelica-Pearl Scott). As the eldest, Dixon-Hernandez leads the trio with an unyielding desire to keep the family together. She repeatedly flexes her note-perfect vocals but truly knocks it out of the park when singing alongside Vick during “Just Pretend,” a tear-jerk moment and a standout supporting performance. Her younger siblings were utterly adorable and playful, more than a match for the Shaftsbury’s stage - musical theatre is in safe hands for many years to come with these three. Their joint number “What The Hell” was a personal highlight.
The score from Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick feels fresh and modern, effortlessly capturing the soul of the story and offering up a plethora of songs to belt out in long car journeys coupled with heartfelt melodies such as the closing number “As Long As There Is Love.” The songs feel surprisingly natural within the plot, a true testament to the collaboration between the book and music. Musical Director Elliott Ware has the band sounding in tip-top condition, as you would expect from a huge production such as this.
The design is equally extravagant with a multitude of set pieces flying, sliding and protruding onto the stage. David Korins has exquisitely rendered the Hillard’s home, packing it with opportunities for the ensemble to pop up out of nowhere during the “Easy Peasy” song, overflowing with incredible choreography from Lorin Latarro (High School Musical 2 kitchen routine move over). The scenic design is lit perfectly by Philip S. Rosenberg, but his work has its more impactful moment later on when the set pieces are stripped away and Daniel is left facing the consequences of his actions. Catherine Zuber has undoubtedly earned her paycheque with the endless costume changes for the ensemble, even creating looks for Oscar Wilde, Princess Diana and Angela Merkel of all people - brilliance. The iconic Mrs. Doubtfire look is of course, marvellous.
It's important to point out that many people from the trans community have rightly expressed concerns surrounding this show. The prospect of a man in a dress existing as a permanent punchline is of course a concern. Changes have been made since the Broadway run (I have not seen a previous iteration so cannot compare) and I do believe that this piece elevates the character far beyond a joke and seeks to highlight the lengths any parent would go for their child but I encourage you to seek out the opinions of trans reviewers and artists as they can better discuss whether this is the case or not, it is not for me to decide.
Imbued with pure musical theatre magic, kids (even the grown-up ones) and parents will recognise aspects of themselves on the stage in this wonderful, effervescent production. An efficient book intertwined with delectable music lays the foundations for a charming and heart-warming evening of theatre. A perfect family musical (if you ignore the ticket prices).
Currently booking to June 2024 - Tickets
Photography: Manuel Harlan