MRS. DOUBTFIRE - Stephen Sondheim Theatre
This review was composed to be translated for Blickpunkt Musical, the German magazine on international musical theatre.
Familiarity isn't the same as formula, but the two shamelessly , sometimes giddily, intersect in “Mrs. Doubtfire”, a staged reproduction with song and dance of the 1993 Robin Williams’ comedy hit. Seeing “Mrs Doubtfire” is like taking a master class in how to produce a commercial Broadway musical. Start with a movie box office hit, adapt it with seasoned screenwriters, cast a super talented song-and-dance guy in the title role, hire the past master of directing big musicals, add in a non-original but serviceable score and make sure the audience leaves feeling good. There’s not much original with “Mrs, Doubtfire” but it's on sure-footing at every polished, efficient, calculated turn.
Jerry Zaks, who directs his 25th Broadway musical here (he’s won 4 of his 8 Tony nominations, most recently for “Hello, Dolly” with Bette Midler, and directs the revival of “Music Man” with Hugh Jackman scheduled to open early 2022) and actor Robert McClure (“Chaplin”, “Beetlejuice”, “Something Rotten” etc.) face the same challenge - how to present a character that isn’t defined by the one-and-only Robin Williams who was the raison d’etre of the original. Amazingly, they keep it moving for two hours and fifteen minutes so one almost forgets about Williams. .
The book by John O’Farrell (“Something Rotten”) and screenwriter Karey Kirpatrick, who wrote music and lyrics along with older brother, musician/songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick, cleverly fits the family comedy onto the stage: Daniel Hillard (Robert McClure), a struggling, out-of-work actor, is more like the eccentric uncle rather than the stay-at-home parent his career-driven wife would like. After a messy divorce, which denies Daniel shared custody, he creates the grandmotherly alter ego of Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire and gets hired by his ex-wife, then becomes beloved by his charges (think von Trapp kids and Maria in “The Sound of Music”). The comedy twists and turns when Daniel's real identity is known by some but not all (think “Tootsie”). A happy ending comes as no surprise - family is the theme here. It’s a family musical.
The Kirkpatrick brothers, whose score for “Something Rotten” is superior, use a number of musical genres inserted into the plot. The genre of one song has as little to do with the next about as little as the song itself relates to the story. Director Zaks uses every trick in the directorial book. Exploiting iconic imagery of Mrs Doubfire with broom from the movie, the choreography for “Rockin’ Now” pivots around Mrs. Doubtfire and the kids maneuvering about the set (a nice middle but not too upper middle class open plan) with brooms. A chorus line of broom dancers suddenly appears. When Daniel turns to his married gay brother and brother-in-law to put him in drag so he can get the nanny job, the ensemble re-appears and the scene morphs into a Donna Summer inspired disco number. The most creative number - and also the one with least relevance to the plot - is “Easy Peasy”. When Daniel’s acting career finally takes off as a TV host in a cooking show segment, he is joined by the chorus, this time as tap dancing chefs, toques and all . A jazzy, old-fashioned, boisterous tap sequence ensues - the highpoint of the show. Too bad Zaks didn’t extend these numbers each a few minutes longer; they are lively, and their silliness is rather captivating compared to the predictability of the rest of the show.
“Mrs Doubtfire” can entertain, especially if you go to a Broadway musical only once every couple of years and you are looking for something that your 9-year old and great-aunt will both think is just great.