There is a lot to be said for a crowd-pleasing musical in these times, and “Mrs. Doubtfire” fits the bill wonderfully. If the score is merely average, if production numbers seem nonsensical, and if it’s yet another musicalized version of a classic movie, none of that can distract from the infectious good time delivered by book writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, with a score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick. As the character Pseudolous says at the opening of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “We will stop at nothing in our effort to amuse you.”
That appears to be the guiding principle behind director Jerry Zaks’ production, and it works. It’s the kind of rollicking show that characterized musicals in the early years of the Twentieth Century when P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton often cobbled shows together with outrageous plots and lively songs. And, if things bogged down, they always had a trick up their sleeves: bring on the girls. It’s entertainment for the sake of entertainment, and everything else be damned — it’s a formula that still works.
There’s more going on in “Mrs. Doubtfire” than superficial showbiz, but the show is infused with so much pizzaz and pandering to the audience that traditional criticism seems pointless. For those looking for a familiar story, charmingly retold with an abundance of heart at which only the most cantankerous curmudgeon would cavil, this your ticket.
The story centers on Daniel Hillard (Rob McClure) a man-boy whose wife divorces him for his childish antics and he is threatened with being unable to see his beloved children. He dresses as a Scottish widow, Euphegenia Doubtfire, and become their nanny as his ex-wife Miranda tries to start a fashion company. Hilarity ensues. Of course, the ruse is revealed, but true to the form, there’s a happy ending, and everyone learns something along the way.
The 1993 movie on which the musical is based starred Robin Williams as Daniel, and pretty much everything in the movie revolved around Williams’ and his incredible talent as a vocal mimic and comedian. The musical distributes the focus more equitably, the story is stronger for it. In particular, the relationship between Daniel and his older daughter Lydia acquires an authenticity and poignancy as the teen struggles to understand the nature of relationships — and Lydia’s pointed questions about Daniel’s selfishness are frank and honest. There is also a pivotal scene where Daniel, as Mrs. Doubtfire, talks with his now ex-wife Miranda about the problems in the relationship and begins to see himself as others see him.
Not surprisingly, much of the heavy lifting to make the show work depends on the performance of McClure in the title role. McClure is a brilliant comedian who also manages to convey depth and warmth that consistently feels authentic. His journey from goofball to good dad is believable and touching. In an era where parents are often caught between being a friend and a responsible adult to their kids, Daniel is particularly sympathetic.
In addition to McClure, there are some fine performances from Analise Scarpaci as Lydia, Jenn Gambatese as Miranda (who has her own character arc finding a bit more joy in life), Charity Angél Dawson as the social worker Wanda Sellner who has the thankless task of trying to control Daniel as he seeks to regain partial custody of his kids, and Broadway veteran Brad Oscar as Daniel’s brother, Frank. The entire high-voltage company in fact, is charming and tireless. Director Zaks who knows funny pulls out all the stops—and pulls it off.
Ultimately, it appears the creators of the show have taken their own advice from their Tony-nominated show, “Something Rotten,” in creating a musical that offers, “something more relaxing and less taxing on the brain.” And so, we have production numbers about cooking that manage to incorporate Apple’s Siri, social media influencers, and Paula Deen’s obsession with butter; Daniel’s nightmare about his social worker; a fashion show; and a pastiche-riddled introduction to a kids’ TV show that’s intentionally cloying. It’s often incoherent, but it sure is funny.
With David Korins’ wonderful, pastel-colored sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting, and exceptional sound design by Brian Ronan, this is the very definition of a “great, big Broadway show.” Make-up and prosthetics design by Tommy Kurzman deserves special mention both for how great it looks and how quickly Daniel becomes Doubtfire. That’s central to the cross-dressing comedy, and it’s brilliantly achieved.
Taken together and best of all, “Mrs. Doubtfire” revels in its broad comedy and overall silliness. It makes no apologies for being what it is — which is pure fun.
NOTE: Several performances of “Mrs. Doubtfire” have been cancelled due to positive COVID-19 tests in the company, according to playbill.com. The next scheduled performance is Thursday, December 16 at 7 p.m.
MRS. DOUBTFIRE | Stephen Sondheim Theatre | 124 West 43rd Street | Tues, Thurs 7 p.m.; Weds, Fri, Sat 8 p.m.; Weds, Sat 2 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m. (with some variation) | $69-$229 | Telecharge.com or 212 239-6200 | 2 hours, 30 min, 1 intermission