'Mrs. Doubtfire The Musical' review: Lackluster, but high energy, show is salvaged by its lead star
Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit
The same problems that plague Hollywood (sequels, revivals, and reboots) are the same ones inhabiting the live theater space. In an era where it’s getting harder to convince people to shell out their hard-earned cash for new, original properties, producers, and C-suite executives pillage through the ruins of whatever pre-established brand they can find (and license) and repurpose it into something it was never meant to become. Case in point, a musical adaptation of the beloved 1993 Robin Williams vehicle “Mrs. Doubtfire,” an energetic through completely nostalgic driven show that’s only enjoyable when it's invoking memories of the late Williams.
That movie also benefited from a hellacious ensemble that included not only young stars Mara Wilson and Matthew Lawrence, but seasoned pros Sally Field (“The WHOLE time?!”) and Pierce Brosnan to help supplement the wild antics William was cooking up. It’s a film that has endured for generations and through the musical, which is anchored by an exuberant Rob McClure (who originated the role on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony), has its heart in the right place, the emotion just isn’t there. Several of the show’s tunes, penned by “Something Rotten” duo Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, feel like obligatory placeholders. And the book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farell never balances its weighty themes alongside some admittedly toe-tapping numbers, including a musical interlude where Mrs. Doubtfire learns to cook via YouTube.
Directed by Jerry Zaks, “Mrs. Doubtfire” thrives on the backbone of McClure who’s knack for impersonations (he can switch to Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” to Donald Trump to Kermit the Frog on a dime) would make him a shoo-in for the next season of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s his presence and rag-tag comedic timing that makes this show even remotely watchable and his delivery of all the classic “Mrs. Doubtfire” zingers (“He was hit by a Guinness truck” or “Ce-LI-bacy”) could make even the most skeptic of viewer’s chuckle. At least the writers aren’t trying to hide the real intention behind this production, which didn’t have a great Broadway run after being derailed by COVID, lasting 89 performances and now on the national tour circuit before presumably getting produced by every community theater within a ten-mile radius.
Of course, before he becomes the Scottish nanny outfitted in full drag regalia, McClure plays man-child Daniel Hillard, who’s affection for his children is one of his more endearing traits. After his wife of 16 years, Miranda (played by McClure’s real life wife Maggie Lakis – who manages to pull something from her characters thinly written personality) asks for a divorce and, eventually, is granted full custody, Daniel concocts the idea for Mrs. Doubtfire as a means of staying connected with his children, teenager Lydia (Giselle Gutierrez), and grade schoolers Christopher (Axel Bernard Rimmele) and Natalie (Kennedy Pitney). To their credit, Gutierrez, Rimmele and Pitney are a solid trio, but the script gives them nothing to do other than be the cliché children of divorced parents caught in the middle of the action as opposed to understanding how they could be feeling. They’re given one song together (called “What the Hell”) and its inclusion seems like the writers forgot midway through the development process to throw them a bone and tossed it in at the last second.
Mrs. Doubtfire’s prosthetics look fine, and McClure’s physicality goes a long way in selling the appearance, which is the best-case scenario for a show of this caliber, and the musical’s progressive lens is certainly welcome in a way that wasn’t prevalent in 1993. Alas, “Mrs. Doubtfire'' still joins the ranks of the recent movie-to-musical pipeline of “Elf,” and “Pretty Woman” that are fun on their own terms, yet lack the attention to detail, levity, and reason for existing beyond selling a few tickets. “Waitress” and “Moulin Rouge” managed to rise above those trappings and deliver memorable shows that have withstood the test of time. The biggest compliment I can pay “Mrs. Doubtfire” is that it made me want to go home and fire up the movie instead.
MRS. DOUBTFIRE is playing at The Fisher Theater in Detroit through November 26th. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster.