Mrs Henderson Presents is a brand new British musical to light up the West End. Based on the motion picture of some ten years ago, it has been turned into a musical by Terry Johnson, who also directs. It’s a refreshing combination of elements of the history of light entertainment with the start of nude revues at the Windmill Theatre in Soho, and a social undercurrent with the advent of the Second World War. Rather like Billy Elliot, it shows the same stoicism in the face of human challenge and sacrifice, but Mrs Henderson Presents also depicts an era and a Britishness that has long since disappeared – that determination to carry on and prosper despite the threat of adversity.

Much of this determination comes from Tracie Bennett’s portrayal of the eccentric and entrepreneurial Laura Henderson (played by Judi Dench in the film) – an invincible, visionary woman with a love of art and ballet who inherits a large fortune from her late husband, buys a run-down cinema and turns it into a theatre. When it fails to make money, Henderson comes up with the idea of ‘Revudeville’, using still nude girls. Hugely controversial for its breaking of boundaries, it was a celebratory concept for Henderson, who gallantly persuades both Vivian Van Damm (the man she hires to run the Windmill) and the Lord Chancellor (who has to give the project his blessing) that the idea is to display beauty rather than provide titillation, coining the phrase "if it moves, it's rude".

But it’s the mix of the celebratory and the poignant that characterises Mrs Henderson Presents. Bennett’s loveable title character, so full of humour and verve, also gets some reflective moments from George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score and Don Black’s lyrics. There’s a sensitive exploration of the sense of time going by quickly and of getting older. ‘Whatever Time I Have’ shows the widowed Henderson resolve to make the most of whatever time she has left, while the later duet with Ian Bartholomew’s Van Damm, ‘Anything But Young’ is more playful. Bartholomew has some powerful numbers too as the threats of the war get ever closer, especially his end of Act 1 reality check, ‘Living in a Dream World’. And Jamie Foreman’s comedian is one of those fast-talking, old-fashioned turns from that era who we don’t see anymore.

The intimacy of the Noel Coward Theatre suits the intimacy of this show. There’s surely more nudity on stage here than in the more notorious Hair! but there’s never any sense that Henderson’s girls were exploited. Henderson almost stumbles upon Emma Williams’ Maureen, who starts off as a tea girl and blossoms into the star of the show, enjoying an ill-fated romance with Matthew Malthouse’s cheeky young solider Eddie. Williams has a rare clarity of tone in her singing voice, particularly powerful in the iconic 11 o’clock number ‘If Mountains Were Easy to Climb’. The nude scenes are empowering for Williams and the girls (Katie Bernstein, Lizzy Connolly and Lauren Hood play the main trio), and are beautifully lit. In fact, you do get a real sense that what is happening on stage could well have been happening a few hundred yards away at the Windmill Theatre all those years ago.

The Windmill Theatre was the only theatre in London that never closed during the Second World War and Henderson’s girls played six shows a day during the Blitz. It’s that courage and perseverance in the war that give this story depth, with its mix of the comedic and hope in times of devastation. Mrs Henderson’s company proclaim in their final number that ‘We’ll Never Close’ – although that’s unlikely to be true for this new British musical, it certainly deserves to be around for a while yet.