When I heard that the lovely Opera House in Manchester would be hosting (what is rumoured to be) a pre-West End run of Mrs. Doubtfire this year, I have to say I wasn’t massively impressed. Mrs. Doubtfire is nothing short of a beloved, nostalgic movie starring the late, great and purely indomitable Robin Williams, so surely there was no way it would be a patch on that, right?
Wrong. When I ventured ten minutes up the road from my house (how lucky am I?) to the Opera House on a rainy Friday evening, what I was greeted with was nothing short of wonderful. It’s strange, then, that there had been a bit of an embargo on reviews of this musical, with only The Manchester Evening News publishing anything about it despite being asked not to. Turns out, the original Broadway run that started back in 2020 got middling to poor reviews, with Time Out labelling it ‘dreary’ and The New York Times decidedly dragging (no pun) the plot and its unnecessary musical numbers.
Here’s what I have deduced from those critics: the UK is simply better at live comedy. No offence to the US, of course; there are plenty of stand-up comedians who hail from the other side of the pond that I’d gladly chuckle in front of for an hour. However, the humour in this particular production of Mrs. Doubtfire was truly, truly something to laugh along to, perhaps because some of it was adapted to better suit a British audience.
Alas, due to this embargo, there are no official press photos of the Manchester production, so the pictures you see in this review are actually taken from the Broadway show. Despite that, I would be remiss not to mention how phenomenal this cast were. As expected, the success of this show hinges completely on how well the leading man perfects the role of Euphegenia Doubtfire, and by God did Gabriel Vick do a good job in that regard. Not only can the man beatbox, masterfully execute an on-stage quick change and do impressions, but he can sing, dance and make a whole room warm to him in no time (and, for what it’s worth, he never tries to imitate the beloved Mr. Williams in his performance either). On top of that, he’s on stage pretty much 100% of the time barring one or two musical numbers – I simply don’t know how he does it.
Supporting Vick was Laura Tebbutt as his long suffering wife Miranda – who shone just as brightly as Sally Field did in the original movie – except this time she had to also have an exquisite set of pipes on her as well as everything else. Taking on several emotional songs and another handful of comedic ones, Tebbutt’s voice is the one that stood out amongst a very talented bunch – it’d be surprising if her name didn’t pop up some more in the future. Special mentions too go to Carla Dixon-Hernandez who also has quite the remarkable voice at the tender age of 18, and to Lisa Mathieson as ‘Flamenco Singer’, who only leads one musical number but brought her A game with one of the slickest and funniest performances of the entire night.
As for those reviews who claimed that the musical numbers were nothing to write home about, I’ll just say this: though they’re not always catchy and they probably won’t get stuck in your head, there are so many brilliant moments within so many of them. For me, something I’ll remember forever is ‘Make Me A Woman’, which takes place during Mrs. Doubtfire’s original transformation and stars a bunch of famous faces including Julia Child and Angela Merkel. Bet you didn’t expect that, did you? I won’t say much more in that respect because I really want you to see this on the West End if it indeed ever comes to that, but just know that the imagery of it all is something I’ve been thinking about all weekend.
Alongside everything I just mentioned, there’s even more to like when it comes down to the staging, the ensemble cast, and a really good prosthetic that once again doesn’t just try to replicate the make up from the film. Everything about Mrs. Doubtfire honestly had real professionalism and expertise surrounding it, but to top that all off with truly good comedy as well? Just brilliant.
Overall, I have to say that Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the best things I’ve seen at the theatres in Manchester so far (and I’ve seen quite a lot at this point). If I had one complaint, it would be that the second half doesn’t quite live up to the first, but that’s purely because of the nature of the story in that it all becomes a little bit more serious in the latter stages.
Nevertheless, this will be a show I’ll remember for years to come. It would be an honest to God travesty if it doesn’t get picked up by a West End theatre.
Overall Enjoyability Rating: