'Mrs Doubtfire' review – this exuberantly inventive musical adaptation is a sizzling-hot ticket
Read our four-star review of Mrs. Doubtfire in the West End, starring Gabriel Vick, currently in performances at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
Wonderful news, poppets! The beloved family film Mrs. Doubtfire about a cross-dressing nanny is just as joyful a watch in this new stage musical incarnation, which had its Broadway premiere in 2020 and now looks set to become a popular West End fixture. Appropriately enough for a tale all about transformations – inside and out – it’s surprisingly inventive, refashioning the original just enough to make it thoroughly theatrical and a smart 21st-century show.
Those tweaks include giving the women in the story more of a voice. The opening number, “That’s Daniel,” establishes struggling actor Daniel Hillard as the endlessly fun dad – but, by being a man-child, he piles pressure onto already-overburdened wife Miranda, as she explains to their therapist (Daniel has ditched their sessions). Not having boundaries is affecting their three kids, too: youngest Natalie is anxiously biting her nails, Christopher is getting poor grades, and Lydia wishes her dad would grow up.
That creates a more satisfyingly balanced narrative. Though she’s still a bit of a killjoy, Miranda isn’t the villain here; you sympathise with her making a difficult decision to divorce Daniel and break up the family, just as you then believe his sincerity in the sweet song “I Want to Be There,” in which he pleads with the judge to let him stay in his children’s lives.
Likewise, when Daniel first approaches his brother Frank for help in transforming him into an elderly Scottish woman, Frank’s husband Andre rightly calls him out on his shady plan to deceive Miranda. A later nightmare sequence, involving multiple Mrs. Doubtfires doing Riverdance (no, really), cleverly riffs on her name to point out that Daniel is “playing with fire.”
None of that takes away from the zany, high-energy farce in Jerry Zaks’s dynamic production; rather, it gives you permission to fully enjoy it. Gabriel Vick is simply astonishing in the title role, coming close to Robin Williams’s sheer genius as an impressionist, while also singing, dancing, managing numerous quick-changes, and putting in a strong dramatic performance.
He’s both endearing and maddening, petty in his jealousy of Miranda’s new boyfriend Stuart, yet always a loving father, if misguided. The actual Mrs. Doubtfire latex mask is rather creepy, but Vick makes the character a lovely one: warm, a tad eccentric, but firm in her convictions and – unlike Daniel himself – a really good listener. She makes him a better man.
The engaging adaptation by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell features several contemporary updates (this Mrs. Doubtfire knows how to rein in the kids by switching off the Wi-Fi) and tailored British gags. Among Daniel’s impressions are Prince Charles squawking at a pen and Boris blustering about parties, while Glastonbury’s infamous loos get a shout-out.
When Daniel learns to cook by watching a video online, the host pops up in his kitchen and leads a lively tap number (exuberant choreography throughout by Lorin Latarro). A butter-stroking Nigella also appears – and is then interrupted by a commercial for IBS medication. It’s one of several instances where the creative team brilliantly finds a fresh theatrical, and modern, language for this familiar tale.
I also adored the ecstatically camp disco makeover number, inspired by Andre’s love for Donna Summers, which has winking fun with influential female icons – from Princess Di and Cher to Julia Child. Teenager Lydia gets an angsty rock song, buff Stuart expresses his feelings while lifting weights (his gym buddies turn into earnest back-up singers), and Miranda, now a fitness wear designer, celebrates body positivity while leading a fashion parade.
But the definite highlight is an uproariously over-the-top flamenco number that elevates the film’s infamous restaurant scene, with Daniel hopping between his two guises. Lisa Mathieson is an absolute riot as the singer lambasting the faithless ex who lied to her – further highlighting Daniel’s own dubious actions, but in a deliciously flamboyant way.
The whole company is strong here. As Miranda, Laura Tebbutt supplies powerhouse vocals; Cameron Blakely is hysterical as Frank, who involuntarily shouts when he lies (a fantastic farcical addition); and Marcus Collins is a showboating Andre, but also strikes a serious note when he talks of their struggle to adopt as a gay couple, while Daniel risks losing his own kids with his shenanigans.
There’s also great support from Carla Dixon-Hernandez as a fiery Lydia, Samuel Edwards as sensitive hunk Stuart, Kelly Agbowu as Daniel’s suspicious case worker, Ian Talbot as the creaky kids’ entertainer Mr. Jolly, and Micha Richardson as a formidably humourless TV executive. On press night, Frankie Treadaway was very funny as Christopher, who seems to have inherited Frank’s panicked yelling, and Angelica-Pearl Scott was an adorable pipsqueak Natalie.
David Korins nods to the San Francisco setting with a stylish cityscape backdrop featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, and Catherine Zuber has a ball with the costumes. It all feels celebratory: of self-exploration and identity (although this is very clearly not a trans story, nor does it feel remotely prejudicial), of different types of families, and, finally, of honesty. Well, my dears, the truth is that Mrs. Doubtfire is this summer’s sizzling-hot ticket.
Mrs. Doubtfire is at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Book Mrs. Doubtfire tickets on London Theatre.
Photo credit: Mrs. Doubtfire. (Photo by Manuel Harlan)
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