Broadway review by Adam Feldman
Have I seen the new Broadway musical Mrs. Doubtfire? At this point, I am fairly confident that I have; ask me in three months, and I’m not sure what I’ll tell you. This pleasant and forgettable show at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is the epitome of what Sondheim (citing his friend Mary Rodgers) called a “Why” musical: “a perfectly respectable show, based on a perfectly respectable source, that has no reason for being.” Mrs. Doubtfire hopes to draw on audiences’ residual affection for the 1993 Robin Williams film comedy, in which a divorced dad named Daniel disguises himself as a hearty old Scottish nanny so he can spend time with his kids. We’ve already had musical versions of Tootsie and Mary Poppins; now we have the hybrid we never knew we needed and, as it turns out, we don’t.
Stepping into Williams’s sensible shoes, gray wig and ample false bosom as the authoritarian-servant poppet-master is Rob McClure, a gifted performer who has proved his bendable mettle in shows including Chaplin. But Williams’s spirit possesses the role, especially when Daniel veers into manic rapid-fire impressions; McClure does the best he can—it’s hard to imagine anyone doing better—but he’s stuck holding someone else’s schtick. Jenn Gambatese has the utterly thankless role of Daniel’s uptight ex-wife, Mark Evans is her spiffy new beau and Charity Angél Dawson is a humorless child-welfare monitor. They all get little help from the score and script by Wayne Kirkpatrick, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, who wrote funny original material in Something Rotten! but here seem constrained by their assignment, dutifully rehashing scenes and lines from the film and piping in workmanlike songs. Mrs. Doubtfire isn’t the only one relying on padding.
Directed by musical-comedy professional Jerry Zaks (Hello, Dolly!), Mrs. Doubtfire sustains a mild simmer that sometimes boils up into actual comedy, thanks mostly to Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee as Daniel’s queeny makeup designers and, especially, the inspired Peter Bartlett as a berouged and bewildered kiddie-TV host named Mr. Jolly. It’s all diverting enough, to a point. But can a musical run on so low a fire? I have doubts! I have such doubts.
Mrs. Doubtfire. Stephen Sondheim Theatre (Broadway). Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. Directed by Jerry Zaks. With Rob McClure, Jenn Gambatese, Brad Oscar. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.