No Doubt that ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ is the Feel-Good, Musical Comedy Hit of the Season!

MRS. DOUBTFIRE: The New Musical Comedy now blasting through Broward Center as part of their Broadway in Fort Lauderdale series is everything a contemporary musical, comedy, and live show should be … and so much more! For one, it’s incredibly outrageously funny, while featuring all the beautiful vocals and master choreography that one expects from a musical. And in this case, expectations for the updated version of the beloved 1993 film starring Robin Williams and Sally Field run high, to say the least.

Perhaps it took a team of brothers who also made their mark as singer songwriters in Nashville, along with scripting popular Hollywood movies and TV series (in addition to comedic Broadway musicals), to tackle and add their unique imprint to this iconic comedy-drama. They were so successful one might even forget that “Mrs. Doubtfire” didn’t start out as a musical in the first place! 

I’m speaking of the super-talented creative duo of Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick – whose theatrical credits include the music and lyrics for “Something Rotten!” – and Karey was joined both then, and now, by award-winning British author and comedy writer John O’Farrell in scripting “Mrs. Doubtfire’s” book. 

Here’s a musical whose success truly depends on the lead and, as residents of South Florida, we couldn’t be luckier that our touring show’s lead is the selfsame, Tony-nominated-for-the-part actor Rob McClure who’d originated the role of Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway. We really do get to see a stellar Broadway production, right in our own backyard. As a bonus, McClure’s real-life (and happily married) wife, Maggie Lakis, a musical theater pro with an incredible voice, stars as his divorce-driven wife Miranda. 

Rob McClure as Mrs. Doubtfire joins dancing chefs and Butter, left, in a high steppin’, high jinks-infused musical number for the ages.

We can tell we’re in for a unique experience even before the show begins when the “silence your cellphones” announcement presents as vaudevillian shtick – both from behind and in front of the curtain. It’s a perfect preview to the “That’s Daniel” number wherein we witness Daniel Hillard’s primary problem with taking direction (from anyone!) and his incredible talent for mimicking voices of all sorts – from popular cartoon characters to politicians. Daniel’s agent and prospective employers may not be amused, but for those of us sitting in the audience, this fast-talking facility alone warrants the price of admission! 

Perhaps part of what made the movie so popular was the reversal of typical gender roles, featuring a father obsessively involved in the lives of his children (many a feminist’s dream), but one that came with a cost (as his practical wife would complain: acting like a child himself, and certainly not “bringing home the bacon”). Sadly, Daniel’s “I Want to Be There” lament against the unfairness of weekly visitation – that would keep him from knowing and helping in all the little moments and dramas of his three children’s lives – is one that working mothers (and fathers) all share in today’s economically-stressed households.

We meet the adorable and talented kids early on as they dance and cartwheel onstage during the Overture and, despite their young ages, are a rather constant and professionally adept presence. I attended what appeared to be a completely sold out opening night that featured two of the alternating younger Hillard brood: Christopher, portrayed by Cody Braverman or Axel Bernard Rimmele, and the youngest, Natalie, starring Emerson Mae Chan or Kennedy Pitney. Teen daughter Lydia, who shone in quite a number of vocal solos, was played by a sophomore BFA musical theater major making her professional debut! Singer/songwriter Giselle Gutierrez rocked her role and we can expect to see a lot more of this talented Florida native in the future.

The last rites of a marriage include a hopeless scene with a Therapist (Jodi Kimura), custody arguments before a Judge (David Hibbard), and social worker  (Romelda Teron Benjamin as Wanda Sellner) visits to determine the unemployed father’s suitability for providing a safe home.

When Miranda suddenly gets the opportunity to launch her own sports fashion line, she decides she needs a nanny for the kids, but rejects her ex’s desperate pleas to serve in that capacity. So Daniel hacks into her job listing (she hadn’t changed her online passwords), switches the callback number, and then uses his voice skills to impersonate insanely unsuitable responders to her ad. Until he employs the voice of an experienced, matronly Scottish childminder. We discover how the name “Doubtfire ” is selected from last-minute random connections, and “she” is eagerly invited over for an interview.

Co-conspirators Nik Alexander and Aaron Kaburick can’t get their stories straight for disbelieving social worker Romelda Teron Benjamin as she assesses the dad’s (Rob McClure, right) suitability for shared custody.

Lucky for Daniel his gay brother, Frank (Aaron Kaburick) and his partner Andre (Nik Alexander) work in a showbiz wardrobe, cosmetics and prosthesis department. Daniel implores them to “Make Me a Woman.” It’s pure comic delight to see fully costumed and made-up character options like Margaret Thatcher, Janet Reno, Julia Child, and Eleanor Roosevelt perform that number on stage.

There are also some glamorous possibilities, but when Daniel shares Mrs. Doubtfire’s voice and requisite middle-aged qualities, they design a face mask, wig, and padded body suit to create a transformation so complete that even we, who’ve watched it all happen in real time, tend to forget there’s a man behind the mask. And “her” character is different from Daniel’s – more strict, while still fair and fun around the kids, and intent on providing nutritious, homemade meals as directed by Siri (I said this was an updated version). 

Not only does Daniel shape up to be an excellent nanny and even compassionate confidant for his ex-wife, his true talents are finally recognized. Hired as a janitor at a TV station, he impresses the show’s producer when caught ad-libbing in the booth of tired old Mr Jolly’s (David Hibbard) children’s show. You don’t have to be a kid to love his creative use of puppetry, and later, when he resurrects Mrs. Doubtfire to host the program, appreciate his message about all sorts of families being OK and based on love. It’s a message that sadly, at least in our state, needs to be shouted out loud from the rooftops!

But first there’s still jealousy of his wife’s new boyfriend, Stuart (Leo Roberts) – a tall, muscular Brit who’s honestly enamored with Miranda. Daniel, as Mrs. Doubtfire, tries his best to sabotage their budding romance by advising a “Big Fat No” to the relationship.

Starting with Shakespeare, and maybe even earlier, it’s been done countless times in comedy through the ages: I’m speaking of where one character must quickly change his identity to assume a different role depending on whom he’s with. And yet, these madcap scenes remain consistently hilarious. It must be especially hard to pull off a Scottish nanny disguise at one table of a fancy restaurant, then leap to the bathroom and, with some help from his dressers (brother Frank and Andre), reappear as himself at another table to discuss taking over the role of Mr. Jolly with the station’s producer. Daniel performs this switcheroo multiple times … until he inevitably messes up. The sudden, physical unwrapping of the Doubtfire persona is so perfectly choreographed, it leaves the audience gasping in awe. This episode alone warrants a standing ovation!

But first, like so many scenes in a play brimming with clever show-within-the-show performances, we’re treated to a server dance number that would rank among musical theater’s best. The “Welcome to La Rosa” presentation that features Jonathan Hoover as the Maitre’ D and ensemble waiters is better than any meal. Kudos to dance captain Julie Kavanagh and assistant dance captain Neil Starkenberg. 

And then we get to enjoy a floor show as well. Song-and-dance number, “He Lied to Me,” is loaded with references to our plot, despite being outwardly about Flamenco Singer Lannie Rubio’s cad lover Roberto (joined by Flamenco Dancers Alex Ringler and Neil Starkenberg).

Just as on Broadway, music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations are by Ethan Popp, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Jerry Zaks. An impressive live orchestra plays from the orchestra pit, conducted by Mark Binns and Assistant conductor Nicholas Johnson that encompasses both traveling and local musicians. Here I’d also like to acknowledge perfect scenic design by David Korins, loads of costumes from everyday to glamorous and fanciful by costume designer Catherine Zuber, hair and wig design by David Brian Brown, lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg and sound design by Brian Ronan and Craig Cassidy.

Real-life married actors Maggie Lakis and Rob McClure star as divorcing adversaries in MRS. DOUBTFIRE: The New Musical Comedy, now playing at Broward Center through April 21.

The movie was hailed for not offering a “Parent Trap”-style fantasy ending of divorced parents getting back together, but rather a realistic one where it’s explained, yet again, that both parents will always love their children. During the show, Mrs. Doubtfire also tries to remind Miranda not to criticize her children’s father or complain about him in front of them – an important lesson for all divorcing families. 

But the full-company finale of “As Long as There is Love” as the true definition of what constitutes a family, where everyone – but especially the children – can thrive, is the crucial take-away of this remarkably entertaining, classic yet highly original contemporary musical. As Broadway star Rob McClure reflects on the musical’s journey which was interrupted by far too many Covid-era closings, going on tour now with his wife and five-year-old daughter (who’d been embraced by the cast; especially the young actors), resulted in finding his “family” amongst a tour bus of nomadic entertainers. “You take on the culture of the show you’re in,” McClure says. “The Culture of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ is: What would you do for your family?”

The “family” of this show’s professional touring troupe has come together to present an incredibly warm, exciting, innovatively hilarious and entertaining show with touchingly poignant moments of lost dreams but also the excitement of new beginnings. The two-hour-and-thirty-minute performance is over far too quickly but, hopefully, its feel-good message of love and caring family, whatever form that takes, will offer solace and inspiration for many days to come.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE: The New Musical Comedy is playing through April 21 at the Au-Rene Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave, Fort Lauderdale 33312. For tickets go to browardcenter.org. Or call the box office at 954-462-0222. 

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