Mrs. Henderson Presents
Music By: Simon Chamberlain and George Fenton
Lyrics By: Don Black
Book By: Terry Johnson
Distributed by: Masterworks Broadway
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Based on the 2005 biographical film starring Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, Mrs Henderson Presents is a musical that premiered in the Theatre Royal Bath in 2015 to rave reviews. It made its way to the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre in 2016. In March of 2016, Sony Masterworks released the Original London Cast Album of Mrs. Henderson Presents.
Based on the true story of London’s Windmill Theatre and its owner, Laura Henderson, Mrs. Henderson Presents starts in 1937. Recently-widowed Laura Henderson (Tracie Bennett) is searching for a way to spend her time and money when she comes across a run-down old cinema in Great Windmill Street. After renovating the theatre, she hires Vivian Van Damm (Ian Bartholomew) to look after the theater which now begins producing variety shows in which women star in the nude. When the Lord Chamberlain’s Lord Cromer complains about the nudity and the violation of censorship rules, Henderson gets around them by featuring static naked tableaux girls. The shows are seen as a way to boost morale with war with Germany looming in the near future.
When the war actually strikes, Laura and Vivian decide to keep the theater open – anything to keep the people from losing hope. During the Blitz, The Windmill provides refuge for all, working extra hard to boost spirits at a time when it seems all is lost.
I had a great deal of fun listening to this soundtrack. The songs in the beginning are rather funny as we listen to the eccentric Laura Henderson and Vivian Van Damm discuss what should be shown at the theater (Everybody Loves the Windmill and Mrs. Henderson Presents). It becomes even more hilarious as Lord Cromer protests and Mrs. Henderson comes up with a way to soothe his fears (Lord Chamberlain's Song). As they come closer to war, Vivian begins to wonder if he’s grown too old for all of this and maybe he should retire (Now is Not the Time), but Mrs. Henderson convinces him to stay the course (Anything But Young) and they soon announce that they are staying open no matter what. That song, We'll Never Close, is a defiant song aimed at Hitler and meant to boost the morale of all who come to The Windmill.
Innocent Soldier is a sad song about the young men who never came back from the war. The Windmill girls’ only consolation is that they did what they could to give the soldiers hope for a brighter future should they return…a reason to keep dreaming. One of my favorite songs tells of the struggles of Laura and Maureen (Emma Williams). If Mountains Were Easy to Climb lets us know that achieving dreams may mean climbing mountains, and if mountains were easy to climb, it would cheapen the moment when they realized their dreams. The vocals by Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett are awesome in this song.
I had never heard of Mrs. Henderson Presents prior to listening to this soundtrack, but I have to say, I found this musical to be quite enjoyable, fun and raunchy in one minute, serious and uplifting the next. The lyrics are excellent, the vocals spot on – the Original London Cast Recording of Mrs. Henderson Presents is definitely well worth the listen!