Mrs. Doubtfire

A scene from “MRS. DOUBTFIRE” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. The Pre-Broadway run has been extended by popular demand through Jan. 4.

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“Mrs. Doubtfire,” playing a Pre-Broadway “tryout run”; extended by popular demand through Jan. 4, is the 22nd new musical produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and the 10th to move directly to Broadway; expected to debut in Spring, 2020.

I loved the gender-bender movie comedies “Tootsie” and “Victor/Victoria” (1982), but by the time the film version of “Mrs. Doubtfire” starring Robin Williams was released in 1994, I felt the genre had been played out. I saw the film a few times and forgot about it. The fact that I had disassociated from “Mrs. Doubtfire” was an advantage to my perception of the new stage version. I saw it as a new and fresh experience.

Directed by Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks, the show achieves a mostly even balance between humor and heart. The musical numbers by Wayne and Kerry Kirkpatrick (none of which are listed in the show’s Playbill) are hit and miss. The alternately silly, sweet, and sassy storyline has been updated by John O’Farrell and Kerry Kirkpatrick to include references to Donald Trump and social media.

Rob McClure, fresh from the Broadway version of “Beetlejuice,” is the show’s biggest asset as Dan Hillard, the “fun dad” who has not quite mastered the art of “adulting” yet. It is one thing for an actor to “inherit” a role from the late and dearly missed Robin Williams. It is another thing for that actor to live up to the genius talent and all the expectations. I feel that Mr. McClure is the equal to Williams in the role, or, more accurately, dual roles.

Dan’s 15 year old daughter Lydia, impressively portrayed by Analise Scarpaci, says she often feels more mature than her dad. Dan’s constant “Let’s Party!” attitude drives his wife Miranda (Jenn Gambatese) to divorce. The divorce degree only gives Dan visitation with his kids once a week. With help from his brother Frank (Brad Oscar) and his marvelous partner Andre Mayhem (J. Harrison Ghee), the youthful Dan transforms into the much older, very Scottish and dowdy Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, and is quickly hired as a nanny for his own children!

With Dan employed as Doubtfire, everyone begins to feel better, even happy. Naturally, Dan communicates better with Miranda as Doubtfire than he ever did as her husband. And when his two older children discover that he is Doubtfire, Dan finally begins to grow up.

Even when the increasing silliness dissolves into sheer nonsense, I couldn’t help but admire the amazing energy and stamina of Rob McClure. Dan is hyperactive, and McClure makes about 38 costume changes from Dan to Doubtfire and back again. Most of his quick changes are done on stage, either in full or partial view of the audience. Here I must also praise the outstanding contributions of costume designer Catherine Zuber, hair designer David Brian Brown, and set designer David Korins.

Like Robin Williams, Rob McClure is an amazing, outsize talent. Director Jerry Zaks wisely surrounds a cast around him that is equally talented and, more importantly, very believable. Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee steal several scenes as Frank and Andre Mayhem save Dan from being found out by social worker Wanda Sellner (Charity Angel Dawson). Miss Dawson gets a big musical number in the middle of Act II, obviously included so her vocal power is not wasted. Her big number, a nightmare sequence where Dan is chased by monstrous variations of Doubtfire, is fascinatingly weird.

I do recall in the film version that Miranda, portrayed by Sally Field, was nothing more than a shrewish nag of an ex-wife. Thankfully, John O’Farrell and Kerry Kirkpatrick have softened Miranda quite a bit, so Jenn Gambatese gets to portray her as a multi-dimensional human being. And the children, portrayed by Analise Scarpaci, Jake Ryan Flynn, and Avery Sell, are excellent.

There are moments of comedy gold in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The brilliantly executed and choreographed sequence (by Lorin Latarro) where Dan gets accidentally drunk in a public restaurant and his Doubtfire deception comes crashing down is the show’s big comedy show piece.

But for every stroke of comedy brilliance, there are a few obvious mis-steps. There’s a huge musical number where Dan as Doubtfire attempts to cook dinner via the Internet. Suddenly, Dan is joined by a chorus line of cooks and social media personalities. Yes, the audience loved it as Dan tap dances and, Ha! Ha!, — his bra catches on fire, but the number adds absolutely nothing to the plot.

With careful cutting of superfluous materials before Broadway, the show has enough sincerity and charm to fill the gender-bender void left by the prematurely departing “Tootsie,” which is unfortunately closing on Broadway Jan. 5.

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