Mrs Henderson Presents

History Lesson, Laughs, and Nudity    

Based on a true story dating back to World War II, Mrs Henderson Presents, now on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, is a musical of irreverent fun set against the horrors of war.  This musical follows on the 2006 movie of the same name, starring the always popular Dame Judi Dench.

After the death of her husband, Mrs. Henderson decides to purchase a theatre and show musical revues.  She hires Mr. VanDamm, a Jew from Holland to direct the shows.  Her theatre moves along until the German bombs reduce everything around it to shambles, and it’s threatened with closure.

But Mrs Henderson wants to provide entertainment for the young troops heading out to war.  Propriety won’t allow her to have nude dancing girls.  However, London’s galleries have many paintings of nude women that are considered great art.  She convinces the Lord Chamberlain that there will be nudity if it’s done in a tasteful tableau format with her dancing girls standing perfectly still.  Of course, Mrs. Henderson’s Windmill Theatre becomes very popular. But with a war on, the good times can’t last.

This is an dinteresting little war story with an assortment of charming personalities.  David Mirvish has brought in a touring group from London, England’s West End.  Tracie Bennett, who had the role there, is excellent as Mrs Henderson, giving us a headstrong, stubborn widow.  Peter Polycarpou as Mr. VanDamm has wonderful voice, tugging on our heartstrings with his rendition of “Living in a Dream World” and “Now is not the Time”.  Evelyn Hoskins as Maureen, the hapless waitress who becomes the star of the tableaux, nearly steals the show with her beautiful voice. The ensemble is made of impressive triple threats.

Unfortunately, Arthur, the comedian and emcee of the show, played by Matt Slack, is difficult to understand – whether it was his rushed way of speaking, his accent, or his voice dropping with his punch lines, his jokes fell flat.

Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining musical which cleverly tells the amusing story of a brash theatre impresaria, contrasting her tough exterior with motherly love for her young dancers.  The physical losses of war along with the love that is lost, postponed or set aside is a reminder of how we should value peace.  Not a bad reminder from what might be mistaken for just a frivolous little musical.

Mrs Henderson Presents continues with eight shows a week until April 23 at Royal Alexandra Theatre.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit for tickets.  (Yes, there is no period after Mrs — I don’t know why.)

Photo: Tracie Bennett as Mrs Henderson.

Mrs Henderson Presents
From the Screenplay by Martin Sherman
Book by Terry Johnson
Lyrics by Don Black
Music by George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain
Directed by Terry Johnson
Musical Direction by Francis Goodhand
Choreographed by Andrew Wright
Performed by Tracie Bennett, Peter Polycarpou, Evelyn Hoskins et al
Produced by Paul Elliott, for David Mirvish
Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
March 15 to April 23, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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