Though devoid of depth, cultural relevance and theatrical achievement, Mrs. Doubtfire does provide solid family friendly entertainment, satisfying those seeking the experience of a polished undemanding Broadway musical. With its smashing central performance and technical wizardry, it’s Broadway at its professional best. It also upholds the perennial conceit dating from Charley’s Aunt to Milton Berle, to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and to Tootsie, that a man in a dress is funny.
Daniel Hillard is a chronically out of work actor long married to businesswoman Miranda. To their three children, Daniel is a loveable rogue who is always there for them. Having reached a breaking point with Daniel’s wayward antics, Miranda files for divorce and is awarded sole custody of the children, with Daniel receiving weekly visitation rights. With the help of his hair stylist brother and his husband, the crestfallen Daniel disguises himself as an older dowdy Scottish woman and “Mrs. Doubtfire” is hired by Miranda to be the children’s nanny. What could go wrong?
English author Anne Fine’s children’s novel, Alias Madame Doubtfire was published in 1987. Robin Williams starred in the 1993 popular film adaptation which was directed by Chris Columbus with a screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon. The show is the work of the Something Rotten! Team: Mrs. Doubtfire’s book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell are quite faithful to the movie’s plot, sentimental tone and San Francisco location. With music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Mr. Kirkpatrick the score matches generic melodies with acceptable lyrics for passable effect. Luckily the songs are performed by a superior cast.
Broadway fixture Rob McClure occasionally channels Robin Williams with sparkling riffs and simulated ad libs but makes the roles of Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire his own and each distinctive especially with his trilling Scottish burr. With his commanding singing, dancing and acting talents, Mr. McClure is a stage marvel up there with Jim Dale, effortlessly veering from comic to poignant.
Jenn Gambatese is delightful as Miranda, finely balancing seriousness with madcap as the pragmatic wife. As the children, Analise Scarpaci, Jake Ryan Flynn and Avery Sell all offer appealing characterizations. Brad Oscar is uproarious as always as Daniel’s brother. As his fierce husband, J. Harrison Ghee is magnetically hilarious. Peter Bartlett scores as a weird over the hill children’s television host. The animated Charity Angél Dawson’s child welfare official is a grand take on bureaucratic officiousness. In the brief role of a television network executive, Jodi Kimura is wickedly deadpan par excellence.
From the production’s opening seconds, with its scrim and floating connecting scenic pieces, director Jerry Zaks is in control. The pacing of the scenes is swift, the comedic or dramatic tones are clear and there’s sharp momentum. Mr. Zaks is a Broadway titan having staged hit landmark revivals of Guys and Dolls and Hello Dolly! Here he is charged with realizing lesser original material and achieves comparable razzle dazzle.
A rollicking number with multiple chefs aiding Mrs. Doubtfire in the cooking of a chicken, several fashion shows and the zany Spanish restaurant flamenco scene where Daniel simultaneously appears as himself and Mrs. Doubtfire are examples of Lorin Latarro’s splendid choreography performed by the expert ensemble. A dark standout is an eerie dream sequence with a corps of 11 menacing Mrs. Doubtfires.
David Korins’ clever scenic design aids the brisk scene transitions and has a picturesque San Francisco cityscape always on view with the Golden Gate Bridge prominent. Lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg and sound designer Brian Ronan’s adept efforts contribute to the production’s technical success. Once again, the notable Catherine Zuber’s costume design is eye-catching. Hair and wig designer David Brian Brown and make-up and prosthetics designer Tommy Kurzman are instrumental to the realistic look of Mrs. Doubtfire.
Mrs. Doubtfire breaks no new ground in the annals of the American musical theater, but it is a high caliber good time.
Mrs. Doubtfire (through January 9, 2022; on hiatus from January 10 – March 14, 2022; resumes performances on April 15 – May 29, 2022)
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.mrsdoubtfirebroadway.com
Running time: two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission