Nothing makes me more nostalgic than the iconic figure of Mrs Doubtfire. A woman of ample breast, a soft Scottish coo and wicked wit. I still recall watching her aged 11 at the Kensington Odeon and feeling quite smug that I’d sneaked into a PG13. The plot covers heavy themes – messy divorce and custodial battles. The film also has a sprinkling of swear words. So is the musical of the same ilk? Is it family-friendly comedy or like the PG13 film, one for families with tweens and teens only? Is the Mrs Doubtfire Musical for Kids?
Help is on the Way dear!
The Mrs Doubtfire musical officially opened this week after a month long residency at the Manchester Opera House and five weeks of previews here in London’s West End. Despite playing to the general public there has been a press embargo till now meaning reviews have been hard to come by. Why the secrecy?
The show has had a troubled past and some plain bad luck. Its broadway run and world premiere was interrupted by the pandemic and subsequent lock downs. It also fell prey to some scathing reviews from New York musical critics. The Broadway show was criticised for leaning on the audience’s ‘residual affection for(Robin) Williams’ and the beloved film. Many deemed the story outdated, toxic and transphobic. Unbelievably the words dreary were touted.
I can promise you, the West End edition is anything but.
Judging by the triumphant adoration of the audience at this weeks opening gala, Mrs Doubtfire has been welcomed to the UK with open arms. Let’s face it – cross dressing is practically part of our DNA here in the panto loving UK. And in many ways this American show actually feels very British. Like a good British panto the show is outrageously camp, laden with innuendo and as heartwarming as it is brash.
This is a family review so I wont I delve into the politics of the show -I’ll leave that to the broadsheets. What I can tell you is that Mrs Doubtfire is fabulous feel-good family viewing. The kind of fabulous that comes with meticulous fine tuning and development. For all those extensive previews…the finished product is well worth the wait.
What’s the show about?
The shows follows the film pretty closely. A devoted but chaotic dad loses custody of his kids when his frustrated wife seeks a divorce. In a ruthlessly desperate attempt to stay close to his children the out-of-work actor Daniel Hillard poses as a twee Scottish nanny who brings love and joy back to the family home. What ensues is a calamitous, but hilarious, unravelling of the truth as Daniel struggles to maintain his two personas.
Is The Mrs Doubtfire Musical for Kids?
Like most West End shows, this show carries a blanket recommendation for ages 6+. I always find this a bit wishy washy – the theatre’s attempt to deter screaming newborns and toilet training toddlers. Like most parents I wondered what age this musical was really appropriate for. So I took my 6 and 7 year old boys along to put it to the test.
The boys had never been to a full scale musical till now. Aged 6 and 7 they are moving on from toddler theatre and need something a bit more engaging.
How long is the show?
Two and a half hours (including a 20 minute interval). Yes it’s a long show. But it’s a fast moving show with only a couple of dips in pace. It feels like every other scene is a big choreographic number with lots of interchanging performers and dazzling new costumes.
The couple of necessary scenes (ie the courtroom scene), that I thought might disengage the boys were thankfully swift and simplistic. Having said this the boys were starting to tire by the final scenes. These included a beautiful ballad by ‘uptight’ wife Miranda Hillard, on the collapse of her marriage, followed by an equally emotional father /daughter duet. Whilst I was fighting back the tears, the sentimentality of these numbers was lost on the boys. Luckily the stunning vocals had them entranced and before they knew it we were hurtled onto the big finale.
Was there any Swearing?
Yes. Although it was the kind of swearing my boys are shamefully quite familiar with. ‘Goddammit’ , ‘”what the Hell’, ‘No Shit’ and ‘…piss me off’ were about as bad as you can expect. My boys didn’t bat an eye, they were so distracted by the spectacle.
How does the show deal with divorce?
I think the show does a really good job of giving voice to each of the family characters – the kids who wonder if they are to blame, the mum who had hidden her unhappiness for too long and the dad who regrets neglecting his marriage.
The overriding message is that the family finds love again. The love that was always there, got muddied but got found again. The show takes you on a journey of heartfelt belly laughs to sniffles and manages to find a point of resolution.
The final scene sees life all hunkydory – new lovers welcomed, a new baby, everyone thriving and unscathed. The message is that family is the most important thing whatever form it takes. I can imagine this picture perfect sugar coated resolution would be irksome to many adults. But maybe this is the simplified Disney version that kids need? I’ll let you be the judge.
What did the kids like?
Firstly there are kids in this cast. The three children, playing ages of around 5, 10 and 15 were spectacular and mesmerised my two boys. In particular Christopher Hillard (played by Frankie Treadaway) at just a few years older than my eldest proved a huge hit, delivering funny one liners, mature vocals and some mean dance moves. (I am now getting badgered for Performing Arts classes!)
The choreography is dazzling and deserves a review of its own. We all delighted in watching a granny do the worm, not to mention a chorus of ten Mrs Doutfires busting a move before breaking in to the Riverdance. The carefully choreographed scene of Mrs Doubtfire’s reveal (amidst scowling flamenco dancers who strip at her disguise) left my boys cowering behind splayed fingers. The sight of a Mrs Doubtfire ‘naked’ in her body suit bought tears of giggles.
The boys were also impressed by the impersonations – Kermit the frog, Homer Simpson and even Boris Johnson piqued their approval. Kudos to Gabriel VIck for successfully filling the seemingly unfillable boots of Robin Williams.
But moreover the sheer spectacle of this production, the glamorous costumes, big choreographic numbers and colourful sets made for edge of your seat engagement from both adults and children.
But is it as good as the film…?
Probably better. The stage adaptation has successfully bought the story up to date. The kids are relatably consumed with their ipads, Mrs Doubtfire learns to cook from Youtube and there are references to Miranda seeking love on Tinder. The show has also been tweaked for its new UK audience with references to Boris and the Royals.
A family trip to a West End show does not come cheap. But I can say without hesitation that this is one show that is well worth its ticket price and that makes for an unforgettable whole family experience. Heed the recommendation for ages 6+ and go for it!
I hope you have found this review helpful for deciding whether to take your children to see ‘Mrs Doubtfire’. Mrs Doubtfire a new musical comedy is playing now at Shaftesbury Theatre.
Daniel Hillard – Gabriel Vick
Miranda Hillard – Laura Tebbutt
Lydia Hillard – Carla Dixon – Hernandez
Christopher Hillard – Frankie Treadaway
Natalie Hillard – Angelica-Pearl Scott
Frank Hillard – Cameron Blakely
Andre Mayem – Marcus Collins
Wanda Sellner – Kelly Agbowu
Stuart Dunmire – Samuel Edwards
Mr Jolly – Ian Talbot
Janet Lundy – Micha Richardson
Flamenco Singer – Lisa Mathieson
Wayne Kirkpatrick – Music and Lyrics
Karey Kirkpatrick – Music, Lyrics and Book
Lorin Latarro – Choreography
John O’Farrell – Book
Ethan Popp – Music supervision
Directed by Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks