Broadway Review: MRS. DOUBTFIRE — THE NEW MUSICAL COMEDY (Stephen Sondheim Theatre)

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by Gregory Bernard on April 24, 2022

in Theater-New York

DON’T DOUBT IT; THIS SHOW’S ON FIRE

Third time’s a charm. After a few preview performances, this $17 million musical, adapted from the hit film of the same name, shut down with all of Broadway due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Nineteen months later, as theater slowly began to reopen, Mrs. Doubtfire resumed previews in late October of 2021, and officially opened on December 5th. A month later, however, with the COVID variant Omicron surging, performances halted again in January for a 9-week hiatus. After an additional month, Mrs. Doubtfire is finally back on the boards in glorious shape at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.

From the downbeat of music, energy pops from the orchestra pit, reminiscent of a classic Broadway overture from yesteryear (Ethan Popp Music Supervision, Arrangements, and Orchestrations). Segueing into the opening number of an annual family portrait (“What’s Wrong With This Picture”) conflict bickers between patriarch Daniel Hillard (Rob McClure) and matriarch Miranda Hillard (Jenn Gambatese), culminating with the Mrs. asking for a divorce. And who can blame her? She married an unemployed actor who acts more like a hyperactive, immature child than a responsible, dependable adult.

Mr. McClure takes on the memorable role, possibly a bit intimidated following in the footsteps of legendary Robin Williams’ screen performance. Onstage, McClure finds his own playful, childlike spirit, and only when the court denies him shared custody for his three children does he come to terms with a heartfelt realization that he must change. His “I Want” song is literally entitled “I Want to Be There,and jumping through hoops with his brother (the reliably hilarious Brad Oscar, Tony nominee for Something Rotten! ) and his husband Andre (the equally funny, proficient J. Harrison Ghee), they devise an outlandish plan to enable Daniel to be around his children daily.

With music and lyrics (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick) and book (Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell), hilarity ensues with every scene and comic musical number to follow. There are also interspersed meaningful power ballads for both parents as well as the teenage daughter (Analise Scarpaci). The expert choreography (Lorin Latarro) adds delight in every single ensemble dance number. Celebrating his 25th production on Broadway, director Jerry Zaks makes another splash with his fluid staging and expertise (his third in a row after the recent popular revivals Hello Dolly! and The Music Man (though the latter isn’t credited in his bio).

It‘s no surprise the sets are imaginative and effortlessly flowing by David Korins (at the top of his craft with three other current Broadway hits: Hamilton, Beetlejuice, and Dear Evan Hansen). Catherine Zuber (costumes), David Brian Brown (hair), and Tommy Kurzman (makeup and prosthetics) contribute much to the over-all comedy and theater magic, not only with the ensemble member, each of whom plays numerous characters, but also with Mrs. Doubtfire herself. Unlike in Tootsie, where the transformations from man to woman and back again were mostly made off-stage, McClure often changes onstage in full view of the audience — a delight to witness the theatrical ingenuity.

Speaking of the pre-COVID-19 Broadway production of Tootsie, many of the so-called woke community took credit for closing the David Yazbek and Robert Horn musical after much resentment boiled from its male protagonist dressing as a woman. The motivation that an unemployed actor would think he’d be more employable as a woman failed to win over anybody’s funny bone — understandably not the most logical explanation. With Mrs. Doubtfire, another unemployed actor has a much stronger, touching, unswerving motivation for dressing as a woman: to be hired as a nanny to care for his separated children. And for me, both were exceedingly funny. Neither production is making fun of men who dress as women; they’re not trans people physicalizing an internal change in orientation or identity. These are passionate cisgender straight men, misguided or not, trying to achieve a specific needed goal. Neither was intended to laugh at men who dress as women, and it would be a shame for this musical to be cancelled — for any reason

Laugh out loud funny, the entire ensemble, creative team, and backstage crew make all the hard work appear effortless. Not to overlook the always delightful Peter Bartlett in a smaller memorable role (Mr. Jolly), the two youngest adorably talented children (Tyler Wladis and Austin Elle Fisher), and Charity Angél Dawson who turns the severe, humorless court appointed advocate (Wanda Sellner) into a powerhouse rock star who haunts Daniel’s eleventh-hour nightmare (“Playing With Fire” — also featuring another impressive quick costume change).

This perfectly structured musical comedy is family friendly and entertaining for all, coming off as a new classic Broadway musical for the ages — at least for the pre-COVID-19 times.

photos by Joan Marcus

Mrs. Doubtfire
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W 43rd Street
for tickets, visit at Telecharge.com
closes on May 29, 2022
plays the Manchester Opera House, England, Sep 2 – Oct 1, 2022
U.S. National Tour opens October 2023
for more info, visit Mrs. Doubtfire

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