Review by Sandi Durell . . .
It’s actually refreshing to see an old-fashioned comedy without all the stressful challenges of most of Broadway’s recent theatrical offerings. Just sit back and let the laughter begin. The iconic 1993 film has been adapted as a musical at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and still remains heart-warming with the added attraction of clever, quirky music and many times silly lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick – the book adapted by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. The film starred Robin Williams and Sally Field as the bickering couple with three kids. Oh, maybe there is a fourth kid . . . zany Dad! In case you’re unfamiliar with the film, Dad’s an out-of-work actor who knows the art of game playing, making mayhem and having too good a time as he gets canned from one job after another over creative differences. The family member hurting most emotionally, is hard-working, always in charge, Mom who is about to launch her own gym clothing line.
As things reach a point where she can’t take it anymore, Miranda Hillard (the lovely, sincere and golden voiced Jenn Gambatese) divorces the cute, affectionate, in his own way lovable but just doesn’t get it, Daniel Hillard (the amazing Rob McClure). The kids are more than surprised: the youngest sweet Natalie (adorable Avery Sell), the bit loopy, TV game playing son Christopher (Jake Ryan Flynn) and the oldest and angriest Lydia (Analise Scarpaci) not quite understanding what’s taken place nor why. But until Dan can get a job, an apartment and grow up, custody is awarded to Miranda (meaning he can only see his kids one time a week) and he’s devastated. Meanwhile, as Miranda’s work requires more of her time, she now requires a Nanny. The process of interviewing potentials is comedy driven, as is so much of what unfolds in this 2-1/2 hour show.
Daniel must report to the Court Liason Wanda (Charity Angel Dawson- who gets a star turn in Act 2 – “Playing With Fire”), appointed by the divorce Judge, who keeps close tabs on him. He finds a rat hole apartment and the kids are shocked when they visit – no place to sit, nothing in the frig and Natalie complaining “it kinda smells like farts.” Meanwhile, Daniel lands a job as a janitor in Mr. Jolly’s TV studio giving opportunity for the elderly droll, seemingly drunken Jolly (the incomparable Peter Bartlett) to unleash his brand of humor with hand puppets Ratty and Mousey.
What to do, what to do? All the while, clever Daniel is figuring out a way to see his kids. He visits gay brother Frank (the always hysterical Brad Oscar) and Frank’s husband Andre (the uber talented good looking J. Harrison Ghee), in the costume design biz, asking them to conjure up some sort of disguise to help land him the nanny job. “Where to start/It’s hard to know/So many ways we could go. . .” as ideas fly in a production number that includes ‘Jackie’, ‘Diana’, ‘Cher’ and ‘Donna Summer’ but they won’t do until they finally understand it’s more like ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’, ‘Julia Childs’, ‘Margaret Thatcher’, ‘Janet Reno’ and ‘Oscar Wilde’ in “Make Me a Woman” – a fat suit, a wig, a rubber face mask and voile!- welcome Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, a Scottish nanny with a weird brogue and weirder sense of humor. . . the wonderful costumes by Catherine Zuber that all come alive within David Korins moveable scenic designs. Now mind you, the antics leading up to the final reveal have you whirling around with the ensemble when you have a first look at McClure’s transformation as Mrs. Doubtfire. Miranda is thrilled beyond when she meets and hires her new nanny, unlike the kids in “What the Hell.” There’s lots of repartee flying between Miranda and Mrs. D who amazingly seems to know where all things are in the kitchen. And when it comes to cooking, well, just ask Alexa to find recipes and suddenly chefs aplenty are popping out from everywhere to help create the spatchcock chicken in “Easy Peazey,”one cute, clever athletic tap dance number.
A later visit finds a suspicious Wanda demanding to see Daniel and “his sister” Mrs. Doubtfire together and is reminiscent of The Play That Goes Wrong, with doors, windows and closets flying open and closed, while McClure does quick changes from Daniel to Mrs. D and brother Frank and Andre try to cover. Suffice it to say there are flying wigs and whipped cream . . . it’s shtick gone wild and rivals the Marx Bros. Even the TV commercials go live as a Doctor steps out with advice about curing everything with Rectisol.
Act I ends on a high “Rockin’ Now” as Daniel is unknowingly seen by the Jolly TV show producer while performing his imaginary Hip-Hop version of the show. Things are about to take a new turn . . . or are they?
Meet Miranda’s new buff business partner Stuart (good looker Mark Evans) who tries to get advice from Mrs. D on how to proceed with Miranda personally. Antennae up – Mrs. D has this to say “…pecs and guns and geese better scurry. Oh! Do you use steroids, dear? You shouldn’t. They shrink the genitals, you know?
When the kids discover that Daniel and Mrs. D are one, Christopher blurts out “You look like Grandma kinda crossed with Shrek.” Things start to slide sideways until Miranda and Stuart pigeonhole Mrs. D to take the place of the plus-sized model who didn’t show as they ready for the presentation of “The Women of M Body,” Miranda’s new sports line. Beautiful women appear modeling shorts, leggings, sports bras and then there’s the full-bodied woman – Mrs. Doubtfire . . .in an outfit that will make you laugh – a lot.
“YO, I’M A FULL FIGURED GAL AND A HIP-HOPPIN’ NANNY WITH DOUBLE DECKER BUSSES AND A DOUBLE-WIDE FANNY IT’S CRAZY HOW WE LADIES COME IN EVERY SHAPE AND SIZE SOME WITH BOOKSHELF BOOTIES SOME WITH BIG OL’ BEEFY THIGHS BUT IF WE’RE TALL OR SKINNY, THICK OR THIN WE SHOULDN’T TRY TO DRAPE IT OCH NO! GET SOMETHING TRUSTABLE, ADJUSTABLE AND SHAPE, SHAPE, SHAPE IT”
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that Act II is mostly comprised of sad, reflective songs as Daniel tries to clean up the mess he’s made, now having found a way to be with his kids daily as the real Dad.
I love the fact that you get a behind-the-scenes look at the actual suiting up of Rob McClure and all that it takes to make these quick changes possible. This is pure silliness and McClure is genius at what he does, including voices and impressions, and probably has some Awards in his near future. A family friendly show, this is old-fashioned slapstick comedy with some lessons learned and lots of love!
Hearty praise to Four time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks who directs this wacky wizardry and to Lorin Latarro for her spot-on choreography. Special kudos to Philip S. Rosenberg for great lighting design, Brian Ronan for sound design, to David Brian Brown for hair design and special shoutout to Tommy Kurzman’s makeup and prosthetic design! And to Ethan Popp for music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations.
Mrs. Doubtfire runs 2 hrs, 30 min. (with intermission) at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street. www.mrsdoubtfirebroadway.com