In 1967 Leslie Bricusse took Hugh Lofting’s books about a doctor who could talk to animals and adapted them into a movie musical that starred Rex Harrison as Dolittle and Anthony Newley as Matthew Muggs. It was then adapted for the stage in 1998 starring Phillip Schofield as Dolittle and ran at the Hammersmith Odeon for a year before going on tour. It cost £4million and was one of the most expensive musicals ever staged in the UK. There was then another version in 2007 starring Tommy Steele as the eponymous hero and this too went on tour.
Now in 2018, Doctor Dolittle The Musical has been revived in a mega-production that opened last night at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley where it will play for two weeks before heading out on a tour of the UK, lasting until at least this time next year and playing in 21 towns the length and breadth of the country.
This is a much-changed version of the show. Bricusse, at the venerable age of 87 when you would have thought he would be putting his feet up by a swimming pool somewhere warm, has spent a year adapting his original to bring it up to date and has written three new songs to go along with all the old favourites such as “Talk To The animals”, “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It” and “My Friend The Doctor”. There’s also a major plot twist and instead of the middle-aged doctor winning the heart of young Emma Fairfax, it’s now Matthew Muggs who’s much nearer her age getting the girl. There’s also a bigger emphasise on making sure that the animals of the planet are looked after and the producers have teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to promote their message.
As for the production itself, it’s spectacular. There’s a cast of twenty-five and an orchestra of ten and animals galore – seemingly enough to fill an ark! There are dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, seals, cows, pigs, dodos and unicorns – and these are the smaller animals. There’s also a giant pink sea snail that completely fills the stage, a flying giant moth that flies towards the audience and of course a Pushmi Pullyou! The puppetry is of Warhorse and The Lion King quality and I can’t give it greater praise than that.
The sets are all wonderful with the characters at the start appearing as if straight out of Lofting’s books with muted colours that transform as the sets change. They’re subtle, such as the ensemble wearing blue when the main characters are at sea but tastefully done – the attention to detail is tremendous and the use of the colour palette in different scenes is excellent. (Credit to Set & Costume Designer – Tom Piper)
As for the cast, Mark Williams brings a warm touch to the irascible Doctor. Like Rex Harrison in the film, singing isn’t his strong point but he carries it off with charm. Mollie Melia-Redgrave is delightful as Emma and Patrick Sullivan brings an Irish twinkle to Mathew Muggs. Brian Capron doubles-up as Albert Blossom and Straight Arrow and so does Adele Anderson as Lady Bellowes and Poison Arrow and both are excellent. Vicky Entwistle who voices Polynesia the parrot with a northern twang, is also one of the puppeteers who makes the parrot believable.
But it’s the hard-working ensemble that really deserve the most praise. In the past to have a successful career in musicals, you needed to be a triple threat – singing, acting and dancing. These days, you need to be a quadruple threat adding puppetry to your armoury of skills – and this group are superb at all four disciplines. The animals are believable in the context of a musical and the singing, acting and dancing are all exemplary. There’s obviously been a long period of rehearsal.
This production is big in lots of ways. If the 1998 production cost £4miilion, I dread to think what this one cost but it’s all up there on the stage and can truly be billed as a spectacular. The direction from Christopher Renshaw whose experience directing big opera productions, must have helped and he’s aided and abetted by Josh Rhodes’ energetic choreography. However, it’s the puppetry that stands out so much kudos to Nick Barnes who designed the puppets and Jimmy Grimes who directed the puppeteers.
Doctor Dolittle The Musical isn’t perfect and at times even with this update, that it shows its age as the action stops for a ballad or two without the plot being moved along but it’s a superb production and people around the country are in for a big treat over the next year.
Leslie Bricusse (who was sitting just behind me), can be very proud of this production which certainly gets the message across about how we’re treating this planet and what we need to do before it’s too late to save the animals we cherish so much.
Review by Alan Fitter
You’ve never seen anything like it! Doctor Dolittle returns to the stage in Leslie Bricusse’s acclaimed family musical.
Join the eccentric Doctor, his human companions and his exotic menagerie of animal friends on an extraordinary adventure to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail, that holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place. With help from the Pushmi-Pullyu and his trusty sidekick Polynesia the Parrot, the larger-than-life Doctor Dolittle teaches us not only to talk to the animals but to listen to them as well!
Based on the popular 1967 film with Rex Harrison, this spectacular new stage show stars Mark Williams (Father Brown, The Fast Show, 101 Dalmatians, The Borrowers, Shakespeare in Love and seven of the Harry Potter film series) as Doctor Dolittle. Joining his exciting journey are the superb Adèle Anderson (Fascinating Aïda) as Lady Bellowes and the dangerous Poison Arrow, the hilarious Vicky Entwistle (Coronation Street, Ackley Bridge, Les Misérables) as his trusty side-kick Polynesia and with Brian Capron (Coronation Street, Grange Hill, Where The Heart Is) playing both the vivacious Albert Blossom and the mighty Straight Arrow.
DOCTOR DOLITTLE THE MUSICAL
Music & Lyrics in association with Churchill Theatre Bromley
Book, Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Based on the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting and the Twentieth Century Fox Film
Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Ltd.
Dr Dolitte – Mark Williams
Lady Bellowes and Poison Arrow – Adele Anderson
Polynesia the Parrott – Vicky Entwistle
Albert Blossom / Straight Arrow – Brian Capron
Emma Fairfax – Mollie Melia-Redgrave
Matthew Mugg – Patrick Sullivan
Harry Cross – Tommy Stubbins
Elliot Morris – Tommy Stubbins
Quillan O’Meara McDonald – Tommy Stubbins
Louis Parker – Tommy Stubbins
Elliott Rose – Tommy Stubbins
Thomas Ryan – Tommy Stubbins
Femi Akinfolarin – Ensemble
Erica Jayne Alden – Ensemble
Lydia Bannister – Ensemble
Joel Baylis – Ensemble
Evonnee Bentley-Holder – Ensemble
Jane Crawshaw – Ensemble
Emily Essery – Ensemble
Jacob Fisher – Ensemble
George Hankers – Ensemble
Catherine Hannay – Ensemble
Evan James – Ensemble
Leon Kay – Ensemble
Emma Lloyd – Ensemble
Ross Meagrow – Ensemble
Owen McHugh – Ensemble
Tom Norman – Ensemble
Emily Ann Potter – Ensemble
Director – Christopher Renshaw
Set & Costume Designer – Tom Piper
Choreographer – Josh Rhodes
Musical Supervisor & New Musical Arrangements – Mike Dixon
Puppet Designer – Nick Barnes
Puppet Director – Jimmy Grimes
Lighting Designer – Chris Davey
Sound Designer – Ben Harrison
Musical Director – Josh Sood
Orchestrator – Jennifer Green
Casting Director – James Orange CDG
Children’s Casting Director -Ellie Collyer-Bristow CDG
Associate Designer – Max Johns
Associate Choreographer – Lee Wilkins
Associate Puppet Designer – Caroline Bowman
Assistant Choreographer – Lizzi Franklin
Resident Director – Jack Nurse
FRI 9 – SAT 24 NOVEMBER 2018