BWW Review: Say 'Helloooo' to MRS. DOUBTFIRE at the 5th Avenue
There was no one like Robin Williams. Let's just state that right now. And when you think of Robin Williams, many gravitate towards his 1993 comedy smash "Mrs. Doubtfire" where he created an enduring, iconic character as a divorced father who posed as a female nanny in order to remain in the lives of his kids. No one can deny the brilliance of that performance and I will fight anyone who wants to try. Well, now we have a new musical version of "Mrs. Doubtfire" heading to Broadway and currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre. And while I recognize the impetus of putting Euphegenia Doubtfire up on stage, I also had serious anxiety over it. Would it just be a rehash of the same jokes? Would the music be any good? And would anyone be able to match the brilliance of Williams in the role? Well, after last night I can answer those questions with yes, but well handled, yes, to an extent, and YES, give that man a Tony. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's break it down into the three components of the show; the music, the heart, and the comedy.
The Music. With music and lyrics by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, who brought us the hilarious "Something Rotten", the show is well on its way to something wonderful, but still needs some help. The Kirkpatricks seem to be just fine at the more raucous, comedy numbers, giving their lead, Rob McClure as Mrs. Doubtfire, plenty to work with. The songs are big, boisterous, and full of fantastic energy. That cooking number is one for the ages as is the transformation of Daniel into Euphegenia. But when the Kirkpatricks go for the more meaningful numbers, they tend to lose their way. Which brings me to The Heart.
The Heart. It's almost there, so close you can taste it. And much of that credit is due to the source material as the story already had tons of heart complete with that final monologue about the many different kinds of families that still managed to bring a tear to my eye. But the songs that dealt with the heart of the show, especially the ones given to Jenn Gambatese who plays Miranda, Daniel's ex-wife, tended to fall flat. With quite basic and cliché rhymes, they just don't stand out and give the audience anything to grab onto emotionally and repeatedly brought down the energy in the show, including the opening and closing numbers which could be deadly but you've had a good enough time throughout so, isn't. But then, the character of Miranda as written, who needs to be the grounding force of the family, just comes across as two-dimensional and boring. You can still have a serious, strong woman, and make her interesting, guys. They do better with the songs and characters for the kids (played by Analise Scarpaci, Jake Ryan Flynn, and Avery Sell) than they do for the mother. It helps that the kids, especially Scarpaci, nailed the heart of the characters given to them and Gambatese didn't really reach beyond the page. But much of the issue must lie with the writing. Too, the character of Stuart Dunmeyer, as played by the insanely hunky Mark Evans, just felt a bit like a superfluous prop. Even his one big number was overshadowed by the comedy of McClure and the situation. Which brings me to The Comedy.
The Comedy. Anyone who knows the jokes in the film from seeing it hundreds of times over the years, will recognize many of the jokes in this show. Like, verbatim. But unlike another movie turned musical featuring some "Mean Girls" which seemed to take the script of the movie and call it the book, the book writers for "Mrs. Doubtfire", Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, managed to throw back to the wonderful humor of the movie, update it, and add even more wonderful humor upon it. The show actually had me throwing out belly laughs several times. Credit to the book there, as well as credit to the incredible director, Jerry Zaks, and to McClure, who repeatedly brought the house down, but also to a few supporting folks. Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee as Daniel's brother Frank and brother-in-law Andre had me rolling with laughter with each and every scene. Especially Oscar with his mendacious speech impediment, the two made their every scene a delight and when added to McClure, it was comedy gold, even emerging from some brilliant awkward silences. Also killing the comedy was the always amazing Peter Bartlett as kid's show host Mr. Jolly, who once again takes a small part and makes it shine (as he did in "She Loves Me" a few years back. If you haven't seen it, find it. It was filmed).
In addition to those three elements, the show has a killer ensemble of singers and dancers who will blow your mind with some fantastic choreography from Lorin Latarro. Plus, a fabulous dream sequence from Charity Angel Dawson as the social worker, Mrs. Sellner. But beyond Dawson, the wonderful kids, the outrageous Bartlett, Oscar and Ghee, and Evans' muscles, the show truly belongs to McClure in the title role. McClure is working harder than anyone I think I've ever seen on stage and making it all look effortless. His comedic timing is from the Gods and his physical comedy seems to defy the laws of physics. From the moment you see him to the very end, he owns the stage and this show, and this is a performance that will be remembered for years to come. I was honestly in awe of how much talent could be packed into one man and just when you think you've seen everything he can pull out of his bag of tricks, he pulls out a whole new bag and manages to top himself.
So, even with the drawbacks of some of the lesser characters and songs, which there's still time to fix before Broadway, the show is a rollicking, laugh out loud good time, largely due to the genius that is Rob McClure. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Mrs. Doubtfire" at the 5th Avenue Theatre a "sure it has problems, but I still had an amazing time" YAY. With a few rewrites, I'm sure Broadway will give a big, glowing "Helloooo" to "Mrs. Doubtfire".
"Mrs. Doubtfire" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through January 4th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.