‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ teaches valuable relationship lessons with plenty of laughs
By Kent Straith
DETROIT, MI–Turning an iconic movie into a stage show is a bit fraught. The marketing people push it because it is a familiar story and title, so very little selling has to be done. But we have such an amazing actor–in the case of the late Robin Williams–in our mind and consciousness that it is a very heavy lift for any actor taking a turn on stage in his considerable shoes.
Every performance of Mrs. Doubtfire starts under a cloud that the cast has to fight to overcome: How can we recreate a childhood experience that is inextricably linked in the mind of the audience to the premature loss of a national icon? Is that going to be too high a hill to climb?
Mrs. Doubtfire is a show that was snake-bit by history. After a very successful out of town tryout, it opened in previews in New York three days before the national COVID-19 shutdown, returned over eighteen months later, then closed again for three months because of the subsequent COVID variant. And when it came back, it was short-lived and closed for good in on Memorial Day weekend of 2022 after just over 100 total performances. Still, the production company carried through with plans for a national tour, and the audiences are better for it.
Written for the stage by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, and helmed by legendary director Jerry Zaks, Mrs. Doubtfire is surprisingly delightful. Full disclosure: This is not a show that takes any risks. Rather, it simply sets out to deliver on its promise to make the audience laugh. The material is updated to pull the story thirty years forward in time and tweaked to create several new set pieces, most notably making Miranda Hillard (Sally Field in the movie, Maggie Lakis here) a fashion designer rather than an architect, which gifts the audience with the unforgettable visual of Mrs. Doubtfire as a runway model in bright orange swimwear.
As Daniel Hillard, who famously comes to inhabit the foam body suit and support stockings of the title character, Rob McClure (reprising the role he created on Broadway) ably conveys his sense of desperation when his chronic immaturity threatens to have his three children taken out of his life. McClure lovingly and respectfully pays homage to Williams without imitating him, and the result is completely endearing. McClure and Lakis as Miranda, Daniel’s long-suffering and eventually former spouse, also have terrific chemistry, which is due in part to their commitment to the craft, but also obviously assisted by their being real life husband and wife.
The music in the show is somewhat hit and miss, but the hits range from gut-busting to terribly sad, and among the standouts are “Just Pretend,” the heartbroken ballad the audience spends the entire show waiting for, “Big Fat No,” Daniel’s attempt to scare away Miranda’s new boyfriend, and “What The Hell,” an absolute breakout moment for Giselle Gutierrez, a college sophomore making her national touring debut who very believably plays the fifteen year old girl who fully understand that her family as she has always known it isn’t ever coming back.
At risk of divulging a three-decade old spoiler, Daniel and Miranda’s marriage doesn’t get fixed, and probably wasn’t fixable. By the end, though, the two co-parents have found peace while they continue toi love one another, but in a different way. The core message of Mrs. Doubtfire has always been that there are different kinds and compositions of families, and as long as there is love, that’s okay. Also, two people who love one another aren’t necessarily supposed to be married. And when they discover that, they need not be enemies.
Mrs. Doubtfire is a story that does a swell job of reminding us of those lessons, and keeps us laughing along the way.
(Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical is playing at the Fisher Theater in Detroit , now through November 26th. Tickets are available at the Fisher box office, or at www.ticketmaster.com)