Broadway in Orlando: Star Rob McClure breathes fire into musical stage adaptation of 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

'Mrs. Doubtfire' runs through April 28 at the Dr. Phillips Center's Walt Disney Theater

click to enlarge Rob McClure stars as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire - photo courtesy Broadway in Orlando/Dr. Phillips Center
photo courtesy Broadway in Orlando/Dr. Phillips Center
Rob McClure stars as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire

This week, I flew up to New York City to see Water for Elephants: The Musical and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway, touching down back in Orlando only a couple of hours before the opening night of Mrs. Doubtfire: The New Musical Comedy at the Dr. Phillips Center. After six straight hours of watching page-to-screen-to-stage adaptations, you’ll forgive me if I was half-rooting for a flight delay to spare me sitting through yet another, especially since the last touring movie musical about a cross-dressing cis-het actor I reviewed was the trainwreckTootsie. So it should come as no big surprise that Mrs. Doubtfire didn’t exactly set my bosom ablaze with praise for its by-the-numbers recycling of the beloved-by-some 1993 comedy. 

But I’m more than a little shocked to report that this show not only doesn’t disgrace the memory of the late Robin Williams, it delivers more big laughs by far than any show of this current Broadway in Orlando season, thanks in large part to leading man Rob McClure, a genuine star of the Great White Way.

When arrested-adolescent voice-over artist Daniel Hillard (McClure, reprising his Tony-nominated performance) gets divorced from his long-suffering spouse, Miranda (Maggie Lakis, McClure’s real-life wife), his only goal is to find steady employment so that he can regain custody of his children. With the help of his makeup artist brother Frank (Aaron Kaburick) and brother-in-law Andre (Marquez Linder on opening night, understudying Nik Alexander), Daniel transforms himself into a grandmotherly Scottish nanny and gets hired as his kids’ new nanny. Much like in the movie, hijinks ensue as Hillard attempts to soothe his stressed-out brood and break up his ex from her hunky new beau (Leo Roberts), while concealing his conspiracy from a suspicious court officer (Romelda Teron Benjamin).

Book writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell reproduce all of the screenplay’s major plot points and most memorable moments, modestly tweaking some backstories and updating references for the age of WiFi (or “wee-fee,” as Mrs. Doubtfire calls it), while still leaving most of Daniel’s celebrity caricatures stuck at the turn of the millennium.

The characters’ psychology starts off sitcom-shallow, and the opening dialogue isn’t wrong when its says the lead “thinks he’s being clever, but is just annoying.” What genuine heart there is emerges from the authentic-feeling relationship between Daniel and his headstrong eldest daughter, Lydia, played with with gutsy emotional honesty by UCF sophomore Giselle Gutierrez; she performed alongside Emerson Mae Chan and Orlando’s own Axel Bernard Rimmele as her younger siblings on opening night.

click to enlarge Broadway in Orlando: Star Rob McClure breathes fire into musical stage adaptation of 'Mrs. Doubtfire' (2)
photo courtesy Broadway in Orlando/Dr. Phillips Center

The score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick is easily Mrs. Doubtfire’s weakest link, with nary an earworm amid the inoffensively unmemorable pop-pastiche songs. The best are basically there as a backbeat behind choreographer Lorin Latarro’s loopy production numbers, which feature delirious hordes of dancing Doubtfires and deft broom-eography; or story-slowing showcases for McClure’s comedic chops. The bulk of the remainder are show-padding patter songs that could easily be replaced by a dozen lines of dialogue; from where I sat in the second row, the band-heavy sound mix did those numbers no favors.

Given my less-than-raving response to Mrs. Doubtfire’s musical foundations, how did I find myself grinning at the curtain call, rather than fleeing at intermission? Credit goes first to the relentlessly cinematic pacing of veteran director Jerry Zaks, whose top-flight technical team (especially costume designer Catherine Zuber and wig designer David Brian Brown) and tireless ensemble keep this clockwork behemoth ticking while David Korins’ set barrels seamlessly between scenes. And at the center of this swirling storm is McClure, who deftly slides between accents and outfits in a bravura physical performance that’s worthy of Williams’ legacy, without being a strict impersonation.

If you ever intend to see Mrs. Doubfire on stage, make sure you do it while McClure is in the role, because I’m doubtful many other performers could make this material catch fire like he does.

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