Mrs Doubtfire – Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Book: Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

Music and Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick

Director: Jerry Zaks

The West End has had plenty of musicals based on nostalgic films from the 80s and 90s and Mrs Doubtfire is one of them. What sets this one apart is the fun choreography, a willingness to milk its premise for fun moments and some dazzling quick changes.

Daniel Hiller (Gabriel Vick) is a fun, easygoing man with a catalogue of silly voices who drives his wife Miranda (Laura Tebbutt) to the brink with his irresponsible behaviour. She divorces him, depriving him of time with his beloved children so he disguises himself as the elderly Scottish nanny, Mrs Doubtfire, so he can spend time with them. It’s a premise that could be easily tweaked into a psychological horror film but is played for comedy and sentiment.

Tebbutt has the most difficult role, as Sally Field did in the film. Miranda is objectively right. She is forced to be the only adult in her family, and Daniel’s cross-dressing misadventures are a truly strange way to solve his problems. Yet the story casts her as the enemy of fun, Mrs Doubtfire’s dupe as well as saddling her with a himbo love interest called Stu (Samuel Edwards).

In this musical, she runs a fashion brand whose fashion show number, The Shape of Things to Come, is full of empty buzzwords and features some truly ugly clothes. There’s the ballad, Let Go, which allows her to explain her side of the story but it comes late in the second act. Despite this, Tebbutt manages to portray a woman forced into being the sensible one but who wants to relax and enjoy herself and her children.

Vick gets to have much more fun, beginning the customary request to switch off phones in a variety of voices. Interestingly, his voices are nostalgic in themselves, Austin Powers and Ace Ventura references would mean nothing to today’s children but spark memories in the millennials who grew up with the film the musical is based on. It would be an impossible expectation for Vick to fully fill the shoes of the late Robin Williams; his voices aren’t quite accurate enough and Williams was the king of the teary-eyed smile. Yet Vick’s Daniel is a loveable character and all scenes with his Mrs Doubtfire are stand-out moments.

The Mrs Doubtfire mask is an incredible creation, going on in one piece, transforming Vick’s face and allowing for expression. It is also faintly terrifying, as Mrs Doubtfire possesses the jowls of a bulldog and a head so much bigger than anyone else on stage. The musical makes great use of the farce and the famous set pieces of the film, one involving a cream-pie face pack and another featuring quick changes in a restaurant are all frenetic and funny. The best transitions are probably those on stage when the audience sees Daniel changing into Mrs Doubtfire or vice-versa.

The musical works very hard to invoke the original film, with many scenes, lines and even exact line intonations taken directly from it. It feels most free to depart from its source material in the musical numbers. Mrs Doubtfire’s first cooking experience, where she famously ignites her breasts on a hob, is presented via her Google searches. As she dives deeper into a cookery rabbit hole, more and more chefs pop out of the kitchen and tap dance while they instruct on how to clarify butter and spatchcock a chicken. There’s a nightmare scene that features a chorus line of disapproving Mrs Doubtfires and a scene of one-upmanship between Stu and Mrs Doubtfire set in a gym where the other gym patrons sing about what a nice guy Stu is.

The ensemble is probably the secret weapon of the production. Whether tap-dancing as cooks, serving up flamenco numbers about deceit or hyping up a lifeless children’s presenter, they bring a vigour, fun and theatricality to the scenes they are in. The talky scenes in between have some good jokes (mostly straight from the film) but Mrs Doubtfire is at its best when it’s singing and dancing. Although, Cameron Blakely has a lot of fun as Daniel’s brother, and his habit of shouting when he lies continues Blakely’s quest to get his fellow cast members to corpse.

Mrs Doubtfire fulfils its brief as an entertaining nostalgic interpretation of a popular film which brings to the stage a transformation that would have taken hours for the film. While the dialogue scenes may be too slavishly devoted to their source material, the musical numbers allow the whole ensemble to kick back (and left and right) and really have fun – elevating the whole project.

Booking until 13 December 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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