“Hellooooo!” For those of a certain era, the booming voice of Robin Williams’s Scottish nanny is a favorite movie memory. The challenge for the stage production of “Mrs. Doubtfire” is that memory premiered on screen 30 years ago. This new musical comedy, while enjoyable and entertaining, does not provide a compelling reason as to why this story continues on.
Zaks keeps the pace quick, the costume changes frequent…and the audience clearly enjoyed the light mood of it all.
This production was in development since as early as 2015. Following changes in the creative team, “Mrs. Doubtfire” began previews on Broadway in March 2020, where it had two different COVID-19 related suspensions. It closed in May 2022 after 43 preview performances and 83 regular performances on Broadway.
Daniel Hillard is an unemployed actor and father who loses custody of his kids in a divorce with his ex-wife, Miranda. In an attempt to stay in the day-to-day lives of his children, this down-on-his-luck dad creates the character of Mrs. Doubtfire who aptly fills the care taking needs of the now-single businesswoman Miranda. In his alter ego, Daniel not only aides his wife, but also learns about her and himself in the process.
The music and lyrics are by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (“Something Rotten!”) which are updated to include references to things like e-mail and Tinder. Yet it also oddly still incorporates a lyrical ode to Clinton-era Attorney General Janet Reno. While playing well in the District of Columbia, it is a reference that may go past many.
That balance between maintaining allegiance to the beloved 90s movie and modernizing “Mrs. Doubtfire” for current audiences is also evident in the story (written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell). Dad disobeys court order. Dad hacks into his ex-wife’s e-mail so he can be the lone applicant for the nanny job. Dad dresses as an older female Scottish nanny, an alias which he attempts to keep from 1) his young children; 2) his ex-wife; and 3) his court-appointed monitor. Drawn from the original movie, these core plot lines do not age terribly well.
It is no surprise then that producers of this show turned to longtime Broadway director, Jerry Zaks, to balance the past success of “Mrs. Doubtfire” (the film earned $441 million on a $25 million budget), and the sensibilities of the present. He is the right hand to steer this show. Zaks keeps the pace quick, the costume changes frequent (and costume designer Catherine Zuber provides him with many), and the audience clearly enjoyed the light mood of it all.
At the center of it is Tony-nominated Rob McClure as Euphegenia Doubtfire. McClure’s Doubtfire is zany, snarky when necessary, especially with Miranda’s new love interest Stuart, an appropriately buff Leo Roberts. He is all over the stage with excitement in contrast to the more reserved Miranda, played by McClure’s real-life wife, Maggie Lakis.
This is a great showcase for McClure. His physical comedy had younger kids in the audience in stitches. He also aptly handles Lorin Latarro’s choreography (in heels, no less), and does well with the Kirkpatricks’ music, which sweetly capture his struggle with divorce.
Those softer moments in “Mrs. Doubtfire” are the most wonderful. When McClure sweetly sings “I Want to Be There,” he is at once believable and so relatable as the schlubby father crushed by divorce. As the Hillard’s oldest daughter Lydia, newcomer Giselle Gutierrez displays a beautiful, mellifluous tone to her voice in “What the Hell.”
The challenge with this show is that it is way too loud. It is literally too loud when Daniel’s brother Frank (Aaron Kaburick) shouts each times he lies about Daniel’s true identity. It is unfortunately loud in the portrayal of Frank’s husband, Andre (Nik Alexander), who plays the all-too-familiar trope of an over-the-top, gay black man. The show is all over the place in other scenes, like a dream sequence with a stage full of Mrs. Doubtfires and a closing scene at a Spanish restaurant where Flamenco dancers add levity but distract from McClure’s brilliance as he morphs between Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel. All of these loud elements are fun and they get laughs. But this Mrs. Doubtfire,” fueled by the memories of the past, has too many distractions to fully succeed in the present.
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes including one intermission.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” runs through October 15, 2023 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. Performances are nightly at 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets range from $59 to $139 (not including fees), and are available at the National Theatre box office (open Monday to Friday, 12pm to 6 pm) or by via Ticketmaster by going online or calling 1-800-745-3000.