“We’ll never close…”
I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage.
The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own.
Songs that exploded onstage, like the climactic ‘If Mountains Were Easy To Climb’ just don’t pop in the same way despite Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett’s sterling vocals; the comedy of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Song’ feels laboured and overlong; even the charm of ‘Anything But Young’ lacks the vaudevillean dazzle that Bennett and Ian Bartholomew so memorably radiated.
Consequently, it’s a rather unaffecting listen, which is an unexpected disappointment. But there’s no doubting its struggles in the world of modern musical theatre, as the lack of sophistication in Don Black’s lyrics is exposed alongside the lack of any wow factor to the music. A real turn-around from the theatre then but sometimes that’s just the way it is.