Music: George Fenton &Simon Chamberlain
Lyrics: Don Black
Book: Terry Johnson
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
The Windmill Theatre made history. In the opening number of this musical we are told that it “had its own little bit of history right in the middle of whole load of history” which neatly sums up that during the Second World War, this little theatre refused to close as air raids caused the rest of London to grind to a halt. This defiance in the face of adversity coupled with their ground breaking performances that smashed Victorian pruderies makes the Windmill’s story worth telling, which the 2005 film Mrs Henderson Presents starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins did extremely well.
And so in a post-Billy Elliot world, it is seemingly only a matter of time before this little British movie that did respectably at the box office should be turned into a stage musical (see Made in Dagenham, Kinky Boots, Bend it Like Beckham et al). Of course the theatrical setting gives this particular story a head start on stage and the promise of female nudity no doubt does no damage to selling tickets. However robbed of its titillating visuals, the score of this musical version of Mrs Henderson Presents is as exposed as the Windmill Girls’ boobs and bums – which proves to be rather unfortunate.
The music by Simon Chamberlain and the prolific George Fenton is uninspired and uninspiring. Generally bland and (with the exception of ear-worm Everybody Loves a Windmill) completely forgettable, it really is surprising how the composers managed to write these tunes considering the rich vein of theatrical and wartime influences that are available. Meanwhile, song writing legend Don Black somewhat surprisingly provides similarly unimpressive lyrics that often venture into the realms of laughably twee and childish. Mrs Henderson’s heartfelt lament on the passing of time has her sing (more than once) “one things clear, when all’s said and done no one ever lived more lives than one”. Hardly incisive stuff.
The cast are all game and exhibit strong characterisations. In particular Tracie Bennett shines as Mrs Henderson, displaying a twinkle in her vocals that suggests someone a lot younger at heart than her looks suggest. Sadly such a witty performance (along with Jamie Foreman as the emcee Arthur) are left bereft of anything worthy of working with. To be fair, the first couple of numbers are jaunty and kind of fun and Lord Chamberlain’s Song is a Gilbert and Sullivan-flavoured delight, but little of the music is at all memorable with much of it being pretty unmelodious too.
The finale has the cast and crew at The Windmill proclaiming We’ll Never Close. However judging this show on the score, this is an extremely optimistic sentiment.