Mrs Doubtfire, the musical is delighting crowds at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through January 04, 2020 (extended run). Get tickets and more info here.
The trend on Broadway seems to be transferring movies from the screen to the stage, and turning them into musicals. This trend is usually trite and somewhat cheating to try to recreate something that has already been established in the public’s eye, but it tends to please the general public so it is usually good for business. Very often the producers try to (mistakenly) recreate every aspect of the film on stage and fail miserably as the two medias are very different forms of entertainment. More often than not, one is better off with a video rental of the original with a noted, considerable savings for the ticket. For every one movie-to-stage successful musical adaptation (Hairspray or Thoroughly Modern Millie) there are at least three complete failures (Dirty Dancing, The Body Guard, Saturday Night Fever, Some Like it Hot, Big, Ghost, etc.) These misfortunes make you want to sue the theatre producers to get those wasted hours of life back. When a rare exception to the rule comes along, you take notice. The new musical Mrs Doubtfire is such an exception! It is playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre before making its Broadway debut and is not to be missed!
The storyline is based on the beloved film by the same title, but there is enough new material to make the familiar become refreshed. Daniel is a man-child that loves his kids without a doubt, and bonds with them by acting as their equals instead of their parent. Unfortunately, his wife Miranda is fed up with it and eventually files for a divorce. When a judge rules that Daniel can only see his children for visitation, he attempts to pull his life together and try to win back his family. He discovers that Miranda places an advertisement for a nanny and Daniel (in an attempt to sabotage her) applies for the job using one of the many voice impressions he has mastered. With the help of his brother Frank and his Frank’s husband Andre, both costume & makeup designers, they create Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly Scottish woman, to apply for the nanny position. Once hired, Mrs. Doubtfire becomes the best part of Daniel allowing him to see his children and connect with them (as well as with his ex wife) in new and better ways, more so than he could ever imagine.
The cast is excellent. The Ensemble all does great work, moving as a single unit in the dance scenes, and lending their talented support to the main characters of the production. The three children (played by Jake Ryan Flynn, Analise Scarpaci, and Avery Sell) do wonderful jobs. They all play characters that lend their individuality to the storyline instead of being “the cute kids of theatre”. Their applause is well earned and not just as being ‘supportive because they are children’. All have good voices, especially Analise Scarpaci (playing the eldest girl, Lydia). Her voice shines in the first act song “What the Hell”* and in the second act, when she confronts her father about his actions. Ms. Scarpaci deserves to be tagged and watched for her future based career of Broadway performances.
The role of costume designers Frank (played by Brad Oscar) and Andre (played by J. Harrison Ghee) are both fantastic new additions. While they were briefly part of the original film, the roles have been expanded giving them both separate personalities and important contributions to the storyline. These two men steal every scene they are in, including one where they walk into a room and immediately walk out without ever saying a word! These characters are well-welcomed expansions, and send a great message about the different type of families that are out there.
The character Stuart Dunmeyer (played by Mark Evans) is the new love interest for Daniel’s ex-wife, Miranda. His role brings an antagonistic point of view, as well as a slight problem for Daniel. Mr. Evans’ role is not huge but he does a good job with introducing romance to the divorcee, and in the song “How to Be a Man”*, shows Mrs. Doubtfire that being a man has several different meanings. Miranda Hillard (played by Jenn Gambatese) is presented well. While in the film version the ex-wife Miranda was played more on the cold-hearted, bitchy side, Ms. Gambatese has softened the character to where we can feel empathy and sympathize with her frustrations.
The main character of course is Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire (played by Rob McClure). For the first ten minutes he does the predictable impression of Robin Williams (who created the title role on film). Thankfully, that ended quickly and the audience was allowed to see the original range of Mr. McClure’s talents as he made this character his own creation. Daniel’s love for his children easily comes through without being overly sentimental or schmaltzy. His energy seems boundless, which is a good thing as this role obviously carries the show.
Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick writes the music and lyrics, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell. This is the same team that wrote the Broadway hit, Something Rotten (also staring Brad Oscar). The songs promote the storyline and (mostly) fit into the plot with ease. (*Since this musical is still ‘in the works’, changes are being made – which is why none of the song titles are listed and I have had to guess at what they were titled for this review.) The first act number “Easy to Do”* is the major breakout hit that will be from this show. The song shows Mrs. Doubtfire (via the internet) trying to learn how to cook dinner. It is a fast paced, hysterical number that is timed beautifully and extremely well done. On the other side of the coin, the second act number “You Created a Monster”* seemed to slow down the pace of the show – although the woman singing it Charity Angél Dawson has an instrument of Gospel fervor that brought down the rafters of the theatre. The fitness number in the second act boasts that ‘women of all body types are represented’, but outside of Mrs. Doubtfire’s dowdy appearance, most the others body types were pretty undistinguishable from one another. These are nit-picking details that are only mentioned because they were the very few things that I found distracting from an otherwise fantastic production.
Mrs. Doubtfire is still being ‘tweaked’ for refinement, and that’s a good thing. It is a near-perfect show as it is but needs a few minor adjustments before getting to “smash hit”. The actors are fantastic in their own work, and they work together beautifully. The gender transformation from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire and back is done well, and quickly, as we get to witness it on several occasions. The idea of cross-dressing was done without being stereotypically offensive at all, as some controversy was suggested before the pre-production got underfoot. Kudos to Mr. McClure (and the producers of the show) that took care NOT to make some of the questionable ‘gender related’ commentary that was in the original film. The musical currently runs at two hours and thirty minutes (including a fifteen minute intermission). The time will fly by, which is always a good sign in the theatre. It is easy to envision Mrs. Doubtfire enjoying a successful run on Broadway.
I’ve stated that movie-turned to-stage musicals are pretty bad more often then they are worth the time or the ticket price. On opening night of Mrs. Doubtfire the musical, I was served a large portion of crow with a heaping slice of humble pie; and I ate it gladly.
Mrs. Doubtfire marks The 5th Avenue Theatre’s 22nd original production and the 10th that has made it to The Great White Way. It is based on the 1993 film (starring Robin Williams, Sally Fields, and Pierce Bronson) directed by Chris Columbus. A sequel was quickly suggested but after three tries, Robin Williams declared, “the script just doesn’t work” (2006, Newsday). After Williams’ death in August 2014, officially all “plans for a sequel were cancelled”. (Entertainment Weekly, 2014).