Flowers For Mrs Harris – a brand new musical, has landed in Sheffield for its World Premiere, and I was fortunate enough to get tickets to its public dress rehearsal on Wednesday 18th May, ahead of Preview and Press Night.
Based on the novel by Paul Gallico and book by Rachel Wagstaff, with a 1992 TV movie entitled “Mrs ‘Arris goes to Paris” in 1992 starring Angela Lansbury as Ada Harris and Diana Rigg as Mademoiselle Colbert. The story is based in London, 1947, where hard working Mrs. Harris spends every waking hour cleaning for her many clients. She wants for nothing or so she thinks, that is until one day whilst cleaning for one of her clients, she sees something that takes her breath away…a Christian Dior dress. Something deep within her awakens and she is determined that some day she will own her very own Dior dress. Ada sets upon scrimping and saving all that she can, even selling her own rations in the process, to ensure she can fulfill her dream. Her incredible journey enables her to finally let go of her past and along the way she makes new friends, finds a new love interest of her own, brings a young couple together and even dodges customs!
Act one is staged in London, and all but leading lady Clare Burt, in the title role of Mrs. Ada Harris, the cast all play a different character in Act Two, which is set in Paris. The stage set in simply stunning and it is easy to see why this particular theatre was chosen for the debut performance of this wonderful heartwarming new musical. Opening in Mrs. Harris’ kitchen, with a table, cooker and vintage kitchen cupboard, these all then sink into the floor at various points of the first act, with a 360 degree rotating stage being used throughout both acts. In Paris, at the Dior headquarters, a sweeping staircase takes central place with 3D Paris scenery in the background, including, of course, the Eiffel Tower, and a sweeping chandelier.
With a fantastic West End cast including Anna Jane Casey as Ada’s best friend in London, and French Charlady in Paris, whose previous theatre credits include the Chichester Festival and UK tour of Mack and Mabel, the Menier Chocolate Factory production of Forbidden Broadway (which transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre and I was fortunate enough to see three or four times), and Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace, London). Rebecca Caine as Lady Dant/Madame Colbert, Clare Burt as Mrs. Harris, with Rebecca originating the role of Cosette in the Original London Cast of Les Misérables, as well as starring in West End productions of The Phantom of The Opera and Oklahoma! Leading lady Clare Burt (Mrs Harris) theatre credits include A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic) and Sunday in the Park with George (National Theatre). Laura Pitt-Pulford (Pamela/Natasha) recently appeared in last summer’s production of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, which again I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of seeing up-close (second row from the stage) and utterly adored. Laura also featured in Follies in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, The Light Princess (National Theatre) and The Sound of Music (Leicester Curve), to name a few.
Clare Burt was loveable as Mrs. Harris, causing loud gasps from the audience when she showed just how selfless Mrs. Harris really is, Anna Jane Casey was laugh out loud funny as Violet Butterfield, Mrs. Butterfields faithful best friend and her transition in Act Two to the dry and less cheery French Charlady was wonderful also. Humour was added to her role during a costume error resulting in the loss of a shoe whilst running onto the stage, but Anna simply carried on, sweeping the said lost shoe off the floor and replacing on her bare foot when the chance arose. Other than this, the only main issue sadly was the sound, which other audience members complained of during the interval. The music was too overpowering and quite often it wasn’t possible to understand what was being said/sung, so at parts I was just having to guess what was said or what was happening. I am keen to return once the preview performances has ended and final tweaks have been made. The production itself was longer running than I had expected, finishing after 10:30pm. However, I was quick to fall in love with the music, the story, the stunning stage set and of course, the wonderful cast and I am desperate for a return before the show closes on 4th June. I really hope that a tour or West End transfer follows suit.
Reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne
Reviewed: 18th May 2016