Ms. Doubtfire Review: The show succeeds more as a movie homage than a musical

Ms. Doubtfire Review: The show succeeds more as a movie homage than a musical

There are a surprising number of perspectives to take in when looking at the new musical Mrs. Doubtfire’ is now touring the city after a flop but hey-pandemic Broadway run. And the point of view chosen largely determines the end point of the assessment.

First, of course, you can compare it to the 1993 blockbuster film starring Robin Williams as a suddenly divorced father who disguises himself as an old Scottish nanny to be around his children. When it comes to film-to-musical adaptations, he stands firmly on the more truthful side. This makes it happily worthwhile for someone who enjoyed the film and wants to bring a child of their own, although I’d probably recommend around 8 or so as some patience is required as the story works out its complications in Act II.

The good news is that Robin Williams’ character – in one of the actor’s classic film performances, improvising with the kind of craziness on the edge of sanity that made him so compelling – is being played by Rob McClure in a rare Broadway tour.

McClure (“Chaplin” and “Something Rotten”) is a great performer who proves a wide-ranging mime and creates a fun antic but relatively controlled energy. This is no Williams – can you imagine being compared to that standard? — but it’s more than a souvenir replica, and he gets the heart of the story just right.

His character—failed man-child actor Daniel Hilliard—has to be irresponsible enough to justify wife Miranda (Maggie Lakis, McClure’s real-life wife) kicking him out and a judge granting her full custody of their three children. They are the right decisions. Yet Daniel still has to be fundamentally believable enough to make us root for him as he creates the character of Euphegenia Doubtfire and becomes their afternoon watchman. And on top of that, he has to somehow keep Daniel likable as he becomes Miranda’s duplicitous confidante and tries to derail her burgeoning relationship with new beau Stu (Leo Roberts).

That’s the basic juggling of sympathies that McClure, book writers Carrie Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and director Jerry Sachs are doing here. Daniel does some heinous things — and the show itself doesn’t condone them — but we always know he means no harm. He’s a selfish jerk who goes too far and betrays people’s trust to the point of damage, but we can still love him as long as it’s not real life. This is called comedy, and comedy is not a morality play.

Another key angle here to look at is the stagecraft and here the show manages to be delightful. Zacks — the very definition of an old pro (he’s 77 with a legendary comedy resume) — admits that on stage this show becomes a classic farce. Not complicated except in execution: “Mrs. Doubfire” is a hero with an elaborate disguise who tries to keep her.

The disguise by designer Kathryn Zuber and team — body suit, full face mask, wig — matters. It’s one thing to do that on film, but another in live theater. And Zacks—perhaps better than anyone else—understands the entertainment value of quick-shifting, the aesthetic symmetry of physical comic complication, and the importance of timing climactic exposition. The only major omission here involves an over-reliance on the “shout is a lie” nonsense.

Let’s see. The main performance and stagecraft? Check it out. Of course, it’s also a musical, so it’s the music that matters, right? With the exception of the looping rap-filled number to close Act I, the unmemorable tunes unfortunately often feel like a self-aware cliché, referencing similar numbers from other shows (“Six” and “The Producers” both came immediately to mind on points). This may have been semi-intentional by the composers (brothers Wayne and Cary Kirkpatrick) who created the satirical “Something Rotten”, but given the deliberate choice to avoid the sharp take on the original (as opposed to the musical adaptation of the similar-in-many-ways ” Tootsie”), which just makes the songs feel empty.

Finally, we must consider the cultural-political perspective. This show has been criticized for being anti-trans, portraying a script that mocks men as women in an age where gender identity is at the heart of an intense cultural battle. There’s no doubt that the tale is dated, and updating it to the present—Taylor Swift is mentioned in the opening scene—seems more convenient and half-hearted than meaningful. Still, I don’t see anything more offensive about it now – it’s not like it wasn’t challenged in the 90s, just not as widely – and look at it much more as old-school comedy than old-school trance – phobia.

As an old-school comedy, this show is appealing, but don’t look for music or modernity.

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