20th Century Fox’s masterpiece, Mrs. Doubtfire, has had a long journey to the stage. Long before the Fox Acquisition, Disney Legend Alan Menken worked on an abandoned score for a theatrical adaptation. With an official Broadway opening date set for April 5th under license from Buena Vista Theatrical, I caught the show’s pre-Broadway engagement in Seattle where it is being tested on local audiences in what has already been a successful run.
The stage adaptation remains faithful to the 1993 film, with some of the most memorable lines being transcribed word for word. At the same time, the show is set in the present, with the Hilliard kids using cell phones and Daniel Hilliard updating his infamous impersonations with modern celebrities and public figures, including Donald Trump. There have also been some necessary tweaks, such as the “Drive by fruiting” pool scene being reset inside of a gym and Miranda’s occupation has been changed from an interior designer to an apparel designer, which has a minor impact on the plot.
The songs are written by Wayne and Karen Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten!) who have produced a fun and uplifting score. The big standouts are a song sung by the three kids called “What the Hell,” as well as the closing songs “Pretend” and “As Long as There is Love.” The rest of the songs are catchy, but primarily play for laughs and didn’t have a lasting impact on this audience member.
Daniel Hilliard is played by Rob McClure, a Something Rotten! alumnus who I recently saw on Broadway in Beetlejuice. His Irish accented falsetto matches Robin Williams’ take on the character and he has some incredible on-stage quick changes to transform into and out of his Mrs. Doubtfire getup. But this stage version of Daniel comes across as a little too over the top and at times even obnoxious, making the divorce feel like it should have happened long before the inciting incident at the top of the show. Because Daniel is so extreme in this adaptation, I found it hard to connect with him until the second act.
During intermission, I asked myself why Mrs. Doubtfire should be adapted to the stage because it didn’t feel like the creative team had found any new layers to make the story unique to the medium. But like Mean Girls, it has a redeeming second act where the affect divorce has on kids is explored with greater depth than the film version. In the second act, Daniel becomes humanized much more as well. They say that if you get the ending right, an audience will forgive anything. Well, Mrs. Doubtfire perfectly wraps up the message of the story with a touching finale that inspired the audience to start a standing ovation when the ensemble began their bows. There’s still work to be done on act one, but the ending is perfect.
Disney fans may recognize the voice of Mr. Jolly, played by Peter Bartlett (Lawrence from The Princess and the Frog). Mr. Jolly is the name of a children’s TV show host in the show, who replaces the boring dinosaur guy from the film. He gives the show it’s funniest recurring gag with a memorable entrance every time his show starts.
The staging and set design was impressive.. Some simple cutouts and eye pleasing lighting establish the San Francisco setting. The primary set piece is the Hilliard living room and kitchen, a doll-house style set piece that comes forward when needed similar to the sets from Mary Poppins but on a lighter scale. Smaller sets slide together from both sides of the stage to create other locations throughout the story, like Daniel’s apartment, a court room, a gym, and a restaurant. From a props perspective, there is a bizarre nightmare sequence in act two where Daniel is attacked by multiple Mrs. Doubtfire’s, including a giant puppet during a song called “You’ve Created a Monster” that felt tonally out of place in the show.
I saw Mrs. Doubtfire in the middle of its extended Seattle run and the show could experience a variety of changes before its Broadway debut next Spring. It’s far from perfect, with a first act that pales in comparison to the film but an ending that makes your theater experience feel worthwhile. With the rising cost of theater tickets, a show aught to be great from start to finish and with a little more work, I’d say Mrs. Doubtfire is on track to be one of 2020’s best new shows on the “Great White Way.” I’m optimistic about its future and hope to see it again in its final form. But one thing will always be true: Mrs. Doubtfire can still “Hip-hop, be-bop, dance till ya drop, and yo yo make a wicked cup of cocoa.”
I give the Seattle pre-Broadway engagement of Mrs. Doubtfire 3 out of 5 choruses of “Heigh-Ho.”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.