Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Mrs. Doubtfire
5th Avenue Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Also see David's review of Guys and Dolls

Jennifer Gambatese and Rob McClure
Photo by Tracy Martin
I'd like to think that Robin Williams was smiling down on the 5th Avenue Theatre at the opening of Mrs. Doubtfire, the new musical, and thinking "Helloo, poppets, well done!" For indeed, this bound for Broadway show is a delight, if for now an over-stuffed feast for Seattle's holiday season. It also takes rising star (and previous Tony nominee) Rob McClure and fits him with a tremendously challenging role that he makes look effortless, and one that can catapult him into star status. He has a beautiful, multi-octave voice to boot.

The story shows how unemployed voice actor Daniel Hillard, a loving, uber-likable man-child with a frustrated, soon to be ex-wife Miranda and three of the nicest kids, learns to grow up after that wife kicks him out. The divorce court judge has a family counselor do a 90-day review to ensure Daniel gets a job and shows more adult appropriate behavior, or he will lose shared custody of his kids. He does what seems far less ridiculous, set 26 years after the film: Using his acting chops and donning a latex face mask and dowdy little old lady clothes and padding (supplied by his fashionista gay brother and brother-in-law), Daniel becomes Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire and calculatedly lands the job of British nanny to his own kids.

Miranda, who is moving up the ladder at her media job, runs into old college friend and well-off fitness magnate Stuart, and romantic sparks fly. Trying to keep all his irons on the fire, Daniel greets a prospective employer at the same restaurant where his family and Stuart are celebrating Miranda's birthday. Daniel gets found out after too many drinks and quick changes of apparel. Figure the rest out on your own, but I promise you a believable yet happy ending.

The book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, based on the 1993 20th Century Fox motion picture, is relatively faithful to the plot and essence of the film, while updating punchlines and inclusivity, and using many of Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick's comedic musical songs in the show's zaniest moments. (The brothers Kirkpatrick and O'Farrell are the team behind the musical Something Rotten!.) Jerry Zaks' sassy and sharp direction could well add a fifth Tony Award to the four on his mantle, and Lorin Latarro's slick, athletic choreography works well on most of the numbers.

The work to be done involves trimming the show and addressing song placement/replacement issues. Zaks and Latarro should be quite adroit at whittling down the run time. The Kirkpatricks need to find better ballads for the show in general. The opening number, "Pizza Rolls," is short and unfunny. We don't get a solo for Daniel until 15 minutes in and Miranda's song "I'm Done" should be moved and/or replaced, as it causes the character to have to recover from its angry tone. Turning Stuart's character into a bit of a jackass/fitness guru also bothers me, and his only song, "She Deserves a Real Man," feels like a cut-out song from The Full Monty or Kinky Boots. While late act two duets "Pretend" and "As Long as There Is Love" are lovely, it feels like a Daniel solo or Daniel and Miranda duet need to happen. Considering "I Have Dreamed," "Before the Parade Passes By," and many other great Broadway songs went into shows pre-Broadway or in previews, I think the Kirkpatricks, Zaks and team can make these kinds of changes, should they choose to.

McClure's got humanity, heart, and mad vocal impression skills. All of his songs click, especially such comedy gems as "The Nanny Interview" montage, "Telling Time Rap," and "Easy Peasy," though a little trimming of this number could easily make it a highpoint of the show. Jennifer Gambatese is well-cast as Miranda, with a velvety voice and strong acting chops. She wins the audience over by the end of act one through the finale, even with most of the weaker songs in the score, and she plays well off McClure and the the actors playing the Hillard kids: Analise Scarpaci as Lydia, Jake Ryan Flynn as Christopher, and Avery Sell as Natalie are all are triple threats, yet never come across like the sitcom family kids who always seem to be delivering one-liners fresh from a comedy club. Scarpaci also aces the oldest daughter's serious moments, Flynn is a howl as the tightly wound middle child, and Avery Sell is inescapably cute in a good way as the youngest of the trio.

Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee draw big laughs as Frank Hillard and his husband Andre. Mark Evans looks handsome and flexes his muscles, song and dance and otherwise, as Stuart. Charity Angél Dawson is totally credible as Wanda Sellner the no-nonsense social worker, and blows the roof off in the second act with great vocals on the stand-out production number, a comic dream ballet of sorts, "You've Created a Monster," plus the aforementioned "As Long as There is Love" duet with Ms. Gambatese.

Mining comic gold out of a few nuggets, veteran actor Peter Bartlett is rollickingly funny as past his prime-time TV kid show host Mr. Jolly. Doreen Montalvo is solid as TV executive Janet Lundy, and Alena Watters as a Flamenco singer totally gets how to milk the comedy from her number "He Lied to Me," which echoes the kind of seemingly throwaway number from the vintage days of Comden and Green that steals the show.

Musical supervisor/arranger/orchestrator Ethan Popp does his three jobs with skill and ease, as does the locally hired 5th Avenue orchestra under the baton of Zachary Dietz. Scenic designer Michael Korins, costume designer Catherine Zuber, lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg, and sound designer Brian Ronan earn collective wows for their expert work here. The tasks of hair design by David Brian Brown and makeup design by Tommy Kurtzman, all important to the nature of this show, are top of the mark.

Mrs. Doubtfire meets the task of being as smooth and satisfying in its world premiere tryout as it needs to be—right up there with Come from Away and Hairspray, both supported developmentally by the 5th Avenue Theatre, to whom we owe our thanks.

Mrs. Doubtfire has been extended through January 4, 2020, at The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave, Seattle WA. For tickets and information, visit Mrs. Doubtfire begins previews on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on March 9, 2020.