Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell
Kevin McCollum and Jaimie Wilson
Mrs Doubtfire, the new comedy musical, is the latest in a long line of all-singing, all-dancing versions of classic retro '80s / '90s movies filling London theatres from Back to the Future, Dirty Dancing and Groundhog Day. Some are better than others, but if the movie, like in our home, is a firm favourite integrated into family folklore, then this new musical, comic, jazz-hands and jokes-a-minute version, will not disappoint.
Director Jerry Zaks wanted the musical to be about family in all its various forms, and he found the right material to explore that concept. To make a story into a musical, he says there needs to be emotion embedded into the narrative so that the characters have something worthwhile to sing about, and this musical has an emotional spine, side-stepping the sentimental in spades. Coupled with writer John O’Farrell (Have I Got News For You and Spitting Image) with updated jokes to keep London audiences happy, it’s jam-packed full of heart and soul, whilst musical and lyrics from Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick literally fizzle.
The plot needs little introduction, but for those who have not been subjected to the film a gazillion times, soon to be divorced dad Daniel (Gabriel Vick) is a character actor and voiceover-recording artist, and the evening begins with an OTT show announcement about theatre etiquette that swiftly segues into zany but funny impressions of Prince Harry and Boris Johnson. He’s about to lose his beloved family and will throw anything at the project to cling onto those relationships for dear life.
Enter mothership, fashion designer Miranda Hillard—Laura Tebbutt, who makes up for her scripted two-dimensional character (in comparison to the multi-universe of Daniel) with a powerful voice that sings from the heart. Daniel doesn’t want to lose access to his three children, so when his wife advertises for a nanny, he invents a pitch-perfect response to her ad in the shape of voluminous, straight-talking, comforting Scottish granny, Mrs Doubtfire.
Such desperation, masked in a crazy, passionate rollicking ride, gives Vick as the main man / woman a virtuoso party piece to wow audiences. He pulls off both gags and songs with a speedy, energetic blast, yet also finds the softer notes that allows for a little vulnerability to appear in amongst all the japes and voice impressions. He’s brilliant in lightening changes of delivery from disgruntled, latent teenage man misunderstood by his frustrated wife to warm, fuzzy, ample Scottish nanny who slightly looks like she’s had Botox, as obviously the mask dumbs down all facial expressions.
The original movie did not focus on the whole rigmarole of cross-dressing, transitioning from hunky man to widowed frumpy nanny, but this show makes it the highlight, and it’s fantastically entertaining to watch. The centrepiece is clearly the makeover song, "Make Me a Woman"—a rip-roaringly funny, high octane celebration of camp, cleverly transposing Daniel’s gay brother and his husband into the piece, who encapsulates Cher and Tina Turner in a kind of funky disco tribute to the dead divas. It’s a fabulous number that pops with energy and unashamed brassiness.
This scene followed by the mad restaurant encounter could’ve been lifted from a postwar Ealing comedy, bringing such a fast-paced breathlessness to the musical. It’s hard not to get wholly physically engaged in Daniel’s plight. Daniel has the task thrust upon him to transition between his two characters (daddy and Doubtfire) at breakneck speed and carries it off in equal doses of hilarity and grace. How the hell he gets the latex mask off in time for his flamenco number, "He Lied to Me", is a mystery, but he pulls off the dramatic character changes before we’ve even had time to register that he’s moved on.
While Daniel inevitably steals the show, his three children give impressive performances throughout, without reverting to Sound of Music-style saccharine cuteness, especially when Lydia (Carla Dixon-Hernandez) belts out "What the Hell", rousing her two siblings to revolt against their bickering parents.
Ultimately, this show reaches a conclusion that's both heart-warming with the universal message that there’s no ideal family unit out there, it’s all about love and how you find your way, which feels in itself a nostalgic concept, where families are made up of mum and dad looking on at their kids happily.
Personally, I rejoiced in the simplicity of it all and came away smiling. It’s a cross between the best of Christmas panto and Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but with a fuzzy, warm narrative that lights up the summer musicals season. Luckily, the show extends into January, so take the whole family and you’ll be guaranteed to leave with a skip in your step.
Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi