Much like its cross-dressed title character, “Mrs. Doubtfire,” now at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, clearly required some padding to turn its famed source material – the award-winning 1993 film starring Robin Williams – to transform itself into something satisfying. One wishes, though, the show’s creators hadn’t opted for the 38DD treatment.
Instead, the tuner – written by the “Something Rotten” team of Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick with John O’Farrell, zestily directed by Jerry Zaks and wittily choreographed by Lorin Latarro – is more ridiculously overstuffed than a spatchcocked turkey on Thanksgiving, with too many characters and an abundance of lengthy production numbers.
The result is not only a show that feels overlong way before it concludes at 2 ½ hours, but, more importantly, one where the tale’s heartfelt core of showing how the Hilliard family eventually comes back together after an unexpected divorce practically gets lost in the musical’s too-muchness.
Admittedly, the film isn’t remembered for its plot as much as it is for the peerless Williams. The late comic genius earned loads of laughs for the dual roles of the family’s child-like patriarch Daniel Hillard, a struggling actor, and his alter-ego, Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly Scottish-born woman whom he creates to act as his own children’s nanny after his wife throws him out of their lovely San Francisco home (nicely designed here by David Korins) and cuts off most of his parental rights.
Still, the ever-inventive Rob McClure fills Williams’ daunting shoes (and those padded, unflattering outfits, here by Catherine Zuber) as well as anyone on Broadway possibly could. He does countless impressions and voices with aplomb, throws off the script’s one-liners (many directly from the film) with perfect timing, superbly spars verbally with both his no-nonsense wife Miranda (a fine Jenn Gambatese) and her potential love interest Stuart Dunmire (played here as little more than a too nice himbo by the game Mark Evans), and interacts touchingly with his three children (portrayed by the equally excellent Analise Scarpaci, Jake Ryan Flynn and Avery Sell).
Yet, despite McClure’s exhausting efforts, we might care a bit more about Daniel if he wasn’t constantly competing for our affections with a slew of scene-stealing supporting characters. True, they’re all extremely well-acted by such pros as Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee as Daniel’s flamboyant brother Frank and Frank’s even-more-flamboyant husband Andre; Peter Bartlett as dotty children’s TV host Mr. Jolly; Charity Angel Dawson as frustrated government worker Wanda Sellner; and Jodi Kimura as seemingly humorless network executive Janet Lundy, but they each pull focus away from Daniel. (In addition, to say that almost nothing about the show is “politically correct,” even though the script has been updated to the present day, is another matter entirely.)
Worse still, are the many unnecessary songs -- some complete with “cameo appearances” from everyone from Princess Di to Paula Deen. True, some of them like “Easy Peasy” – in which Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire makes his first attempt to cook – are fairly entertaining; others, like “Playing with Fire,” in which one of Daniel’s nightmares comes to life headed by Wanda as a R&B diva, are just mystifying.
At one point in the show, Miranda pointedly tells Daniel: “Mrs. Doubtfire is here to stay.” That doesn’t turn out to be true, and I suspect (barring great word of mouth) the same fate may likely befall the show before the theater season ends.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036