Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Without question, though, the number one thing lifting the musical Mrs. Doubtfire above the mundane is Rob McClure's astounding performance in the title role. McClure does not match Robin Williams' manic energy–who ever could?–but he brings tremendous talent to the stage, nailing the jokes, singing and dancing like a musical comedy ace, authentically conveying his character's love for his children that is at the core of the story, and handling the fast changes between thirty-something unemployed voice actor Daniel Hillard and elderly Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire with aplomb. McClure starred in the role on Broadway, earning himself a Tony Award nomination. He has also been Tony nominated for the starring role of Charlie Chaplin in the short-lived musical Chaplin and had major roles in the original casts of several other Broadway musicals. It is a rare treat when the star of a Broadway musical goes on its national tour. In so doing, McClure gives theatregoers around the nation the chance to see why he is so highly regarded on the New York stage.
Those fast changes mentioned above are necessary because Daniel's wife Miranda is fed up with his juvenile behavior and files for divorce. Part of her grievance is his unwillingness to set boundaries for their three children: 15-year-old Lydia, 12-year-old Christopher, and five-year-old Natalie. Daniel only gets weekend visitations with the children, whom, despite his shortcomings as a parent, he truly adores. When Miranda's career as a shapewear designer takes off, she decides she needs to hire a nanny, and Daniel applies for the job in the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire. He has a gift for taking on distinctive voices and ropes his brother Frank and Frank's husband Andre, both make-up artists, into creating a "Mrs. Doubtfire look" for him, complete with wig and latex facial mask.
Daniel pulls off his deception for a while, but we know from the get-go that things will go wrong. We also know that once things go wrong, they will somehow turn around and wind up with a happy ending. The happy ending feels believable, which is an accomplishment considering so much of the plot getting there is not. This was true in the movie too. Daniel cannot do a thing around the house but, suddenly, in the guise of the pretend Mrs. Doubtfire, he is able to cook (it just takes one giddy production number for him to pick up that skill set), clean house, and instill good study habits in his kids–all things that, had he done them sooner, might have averted the divorce. Robin Williams' monumental performance enabled us to suspend disbelief in the movie. Here, as good as McClure is, he cannot cover up the implausibility of the premise and holes in the plot.
The musical adds even more gaffes. For instance, in the movie, Miranda is an interior designer. Now, as a shapewear designer, she begs Mrs. Doubtfire to sub for a model who canceled at the last minute. Miranda argues that they need a plus-size model, like Mrs. Doubtfire, to send the message that her designs are for all shapes and sizes. Fair enough, but at the launch event all the models are shapely and young except for that one extreme outlier who looks ridiculous, sending a quite different message. If this were more than a contrivance wouldn't there be a range of different shapes, sizes, and ages, instead of the typical line of gorgeous babes in form-fitting attire? It too obviously an excuse for another all-out production number, though admittedly McClure earns hossanahs from the audience for his hyper-aerobic Mrs. Doubtfire send-up.
Maybe it is unfair to expect authenticity in a storyline whose central premise requires suspension of disbelief, but beneath the latex mask surface is the story of parents learning what loving their children really looks like, and creating families that work, even if they break the mold. I would have liked to see the changes in both Daniel and Miranda that enable this outcome to evolve, rather than just pop up at the end. That would have added more heart to go along with the barrage of laughs in Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell's book. And heart is one thing the show is a bit short on.
Kirkpatrick and his brother Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote the songs, and several rise above being just serviceable. These include Daniel's appeal to the judge to grant him more time with his kids ("I Want to Be There"), Miranda's song admitting how hard it was for her to end her marriage ("Let Go"), a moving father-daughter song for Daniel and Lydia ("Just Pretend"), and a very cleverly conceived number for Stuart, who is financing Miranda's shapewear designs and has his own designs on a deeper relationship, and Daniel, in the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire, trying his best to discourage Stuart's ambitions ("Big Fat No").
There is also a hilariously staged flamenco number performed with outrageous passion by Lannie Rubio in a posh restaurant while Daniel tries to simultaneously have dinner with his family (as Mrs. Doubtfire) and, as himself, meet with a television producer ready to give Daniel a big break. Finally, the show ends with a feel-good celebratory number, "As Long as There Is Love," that may well have garnered a following of its own if it were in a show that lasted for more than fifty-seven performances on Broadway.
In addition to the phenomenal McClure, the cast is hardworking and talented. The standout is Giselle Gutierrez as wise-beyond-her-years Lydia. Other notable performances come from Romelda Teron Benjamin as a court liaison monitoring Daniel's parenting skills, and Aaron Kaburick and Nik Alexander as Frank and Andre, doing remarkably good work in roles written with far too much cliched gay flourish. Maggie Lakis is fine as Miranda and has a lovely singing voice, but the part is rather pallid and doesn't give Lakis (who, in real life, is married to McClure) much to work with. At the performance I attended, Axel Bernard Rimmele and Kennedy Pitney (who rotate with two other young actors) were charming as Christopher and Natalie, respectively.
David Korins' scenic designs serve the show well, moving fluidly as action shifts from scene to scene, though the images that establish the San Francisco setting are somewhat drab. Catherine Zuber's costume designs embrace the show's funny bone, running the gamut from barely clothed fitness models to Julia Child to plumed flamenco dancers and, of course, to a classic Mrs. Doubtfire ensemble. Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting effectively shifts atmosphere between the uproarious and more tender moments.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Doubtfire and am fairly certain the great majority of audience members in the near sell-out crowd at the Orpheum did as well. It was a lark to revisit the fondly remembered movie and to enjoy its expanded presence as delivered by director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Lorin Latarro, and especially Rob McClure in a bravura performance. Its shortcomings may explain why, in spite of its virtues, it failed to connect with audiences on Broadway, but don't keep it from being a hefty dose of entertaining fun.
Mrs. Doubtfire runs through December 24, 2023, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For information on the tour, visit mrsdoubtfirebroadway.com
Book: Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell, based on the Twentieth Century Studios Motion Picture; Music and Lyrics: Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick; Director: Jerry Zaks; Choreographer: Lorin Latarro; Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations: Ethan Popp; Scenic Design: David Korins; Costume Design: Catherine Zuber; Lighting Design: Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design: Brian Roman, Craig Cassidy; Hair and Wig Design: David Brian Brown; Dance Arrangements: Zane Mark; Associate Music Supervisor: Michael Stacy Myers; Music Director/Conductor: Mark Binns; Music Coordinator: John Miller; Casting: The Telsey Office, Craig Burns CSA; Associate Director: Stephen Edlund; Associate Choreographer: Michaeljon Slinger; Production Stage Manager: Kelsey Tippins.
Cast: Nik Alexander (Andre Mayem), Romelda Teron Benjamin (Wanda Sellner), Alex Branton (Director/ensemble), *Cody Braverman (Christopher Hillard), *Emerson Mae Chan (Natalie Hillard), Giselle Gutierrez (Lydia Hillard), David Hibbard (Judge/Mrs. Jolly/ensemble), Jonathan Hoover (Chef Louis/ensemble), Sheila Jones (ensemble), Aaron Kaburick (Frank Hillard), Julie Kavanaugh (Chef Amy/ensemble), Jodi Kimura (Janet Lundy), Maggie Lakis (Miranda Hillard), Ian Liberto (swing), Márquez Linder (Loopy Lenny/ensemble), Rob McClure (Daniel Hillard), *Kennedy Pitney (Natalie Hillard), Alex Ringler (ensemble), *Axel Bernard Rimmele (Christopher Hillard), Bianca Rivera-Irions (swing), Leo Roberts (Stuart Dunmire), Lannie Rubio (Flamenco Singer/ensemble), Neil Starkenberg (ensemble), Joey Stone (swing), Gina Ward (swing), Lauryn Withnell (ensemble), Julia Yameen (ensemble).