As strange as it may seem, the epidemic shutting down the new Broadway musical Mrs. Doubtfire during previews last year may have been the best thing that could have happened to it. For one thing, the considerable gap between this version of the blockbuster 1993 film starring Robin Williams and Tootsie, the short-lived Broadway musical about a straight man dressed in drag, provided some breathing room. For another, it gave the developers the chance to undertake some obviously much-needed tinkering, as early reports indicated. Finally, after a long hiatus from the theatre, there’s a revived hunger for a light-hearted, family-friendly musical comedy. The audience’s desire to simply relax and have a good time was palpable during a late preview performance.
And if you’re not too picky, this rollicking musical with a score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, composers of Something Rotten!, delivers just that. Mrs. Doubtfire sets her falsehoods on fire once more, but the show doesn’t rise far enough above its source material to become much more than an afterthought. It does, however, provide enough solid chuckles to make up for the fact that it is just another in a seemingly unending line of uninspired screen-to-stage musical adaptations.
Much of the credit for this goes to the film’s supremely hardworking star, Rob McClure, who had the unenviable task of trying to match Williams as Daniel, the voice actor who desperately tries to pass himself off as an elderly female Scottish nanny in order to spend time with his children following a divorce. For years, the actor has wowed audiences on stage in productions including Chaplin (for which he received a Tony nomination), Honeymoon in Vegas, the Encores! production of Where’s Charly?, and, most recently, Beetlejuice. His star-making performance in this production should put him in strong contention for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical next year (although his upcoming competition, including Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night, is formidable).
The show’s tempo is kept fast enough by veteran stage director Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly!) to compensate for the show’s ultra-predictable aspects. The production seemed to be attempting too much, with more characters, funny situations, and unnecessary-feeling production numbers than the story requires. It works best when McClure’s hilariously insane act is the focus, as he manages to emulate many parts of Williams’ legendary turn while also introducing new components. In his quieter parts, the actor is also fantastic, beautifully communicating his character’s deep love for his children and serving as the show’s heartbeat.