There is a certain gleeful apprehension that is felt in anticipation for remakes, particularly as the public waits to find out which type of remake it will be. Nowadays remakes either prompt the audience to angrily revel in its soulless attempt at recapturing nostalgia, or surpass expectations as they redefine what the story has become, improving and modernizing the beloved tale. From the very first words, pizza roll, sung to the tune of "Figaro Figaro Figaro!" onwards, Mrs. Doubtfire is revealed to be the latter. Every scene has heart, and through each character a new aspect of the story is revealed, enhanced through powerfully humorous song.
Although my memories of the movie version are shrouded by the fog of the past, I found myself attempting to compare the musical with the movie at every point. The story of Daniel Hilliard, a divorced father trying to see his children, dressing up as an elderly nanny and assuming the role of “Mrs. Doubtfire” is, understatedly, very unique. Putting a new spin on top of that is an interesting challenge, and I was surprisingly pleased with the relevancy of each new joke. However, my mother, who had seen the movie more recently and with a better memory, recognized many of the most charming lines as direct or near-direct quotes. As is the case with every remake, the creators of this musical had to draw the line between exact copy and embellished celebration of what the original is. With Mrs. Doubtfire, it was important to leave such iconic lines untouched in order to ground it in some semblance of the original nostalgia. Due to the musical additions and flashy stage performance, the show could have lost its deep connection with the movie if it hadn’t stayed true to its most iconic moments. Additionally, I heard many other audience members talking about how novel and interesting these copied lines seemed, mirroring my own sentiments and apparently not noticing or not caring about the duplications. Whether it was to familiarize a seasoned audience member with the source material or stay true to the original for fresh eyes, the quotes and scenes that paralleled the movie were vital.
This show’s success hinged on Rob McClure, who plays the titular character of Mrs. Doubtfire, to portray Robin Williams’ persona in a way that stayed faithful to the core traits that made Daniel Hillard, and Mrs. Doubtfire, who they were. Simultaneously, McClure had to craft a distinct performance all his own via a new medium of theater. As seen with other remakes of beloved Robin Williams characters, this had the potential to go disastrously. However, they couldn’t have chosen a better actor to put this challenge to the test. The stunning verbal acrobatics and physical comedy that McClure accomplished were impressive, and McClure took the character of Daniel Hillard as Mrs. Doubtfire to a new level.
Thankfully, the main character wasn’t the only actor who deftly adapted their role for the stage. Every character had depth and heart, even characters that could’ve gotten away with being more two-dimensional, such as Daniel’s brother Frank (performed by Brad Oscar), Frank’s husband Andre (J. Harrison Ghee), or Daniel’s youngest daughter Natalie (Avery Sell), due to their smaller roles. Lydia Hillard, the older daughter (Analise Scarpaci), was especially inspiring with her strong stage presence. It was amazing to watch her steal the spotlight in some scenes, then easily transform into a subdued member of the family when the show called for it. The songs themselves also changed from breathtaking to somber, with a range of emotions in between.
“You’ve Created a Monster” was by far the most memorable song in the musical, showing the full potential of the unique style offered by the medium. It added another layer of unexpectedness to the improv-style charm that was Robin Williams’ trademark. Although all of the musical numbers were obviously intensely practiced beforehand, the ideas themselves seemed to have sprung to life on their own, as if the main characters were simply improvising these awe-inspiring musical numbers into existence. By reinventing one of the aspects that the film had relied on, Robin Williams’ improv abilities, instead of trying to entirely re-create or destroy it, the musical found something simultaneously nostalgic and modern.
Mrs. Doubtfire preserves the improvisational charm that made the Mrs. Doubtfire movie-version such a classic, and adds the beautiful freedom of theater. Combined, these factors create a stunning success. Because this musical is so impressive and well done, its deeper messages of self-love and the importance of familial ties stick with the viewer longer. Even when divorce tears apart the characters’ family, we are shown how Daniel Hillard is able to change his life by improving his relationships with his family. Ultimately, Daniel discovers that he is able to be loved by his family for who he truly is without needing to dress up like an old woman to regain their affection. These messages of self worth and familial love transferred from the movie to the musical in a way that kept the core ideas of these values alive while perfectly adapting them for this newer version.
Mrs. Doubtfire ran at the 5th Avenue Theatre November 26 - January 4. For event information see here.