It seems impossible, doesn't it, to make a good stage musical out of the 1993 Robin Williams movie Mrs. Doubtfire? First of all, Robin Williams is dead. Second, Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan are busy. Third, how is it not going to be embarrassing to see these characters—who did not break out into song in the movie—break out into song?
Go in with low expectations like I did, and you will leave with the unmistakable impression that director Jerry Zaks has done the impossible. It is an exuberant, dazzling, imaginative, funny, and unbelievably good update of the film (which itself was adapted from a 1987 novel called Madame Doubtfire) set in Trump's America.
Robin Williams may be dead, but Rob McClure, who plays the dad in this world premiere musical adaptation, is very much alive. He does lots of jokes and gags straight out of the movie—dancing with the vacuum cleaner, having his fake boobs set on fire while he's cooking—but also lots of new ones, including an impression of Trump. Is it possible McClure has more skills in his arsenal than Robin Williams did? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember Williams being a tap dancer.
The tap-dance number, "Easy Peasy," which comes at the part of act one when Mrs. Doubtfire is trying to make dinner, is a jolt of joyful theater-making that reminds you why you go see musical theater in the first place. In its gorgeous execution and seemingly offhand hilariousness, it reminded me of the act-one tap number in Book of Mormon, "Turn It Off."
The show is headed straight to Broadway after its run in Seattle (through January 4), and it's just about ready to go. But there are three things in the show that made me wince, three things that need to be cut before it gets to New York City. One is a song called "Let Go" (dull and unnecessary). One is a moment when a TV children's entertainer tries to introduce rapping to little kids and brings out a stereotypically dressed black gangsta rapper who has no lines or any importance to the story (his unimportance wrapped in stereotype feels racist). And one is a moment at the very end of act two when a bunch of gay families we've never seen before in the show (a family with two dads! A family with two moms!) come out and sing the finale with the main characters. It makes no sense, it's almost creepy (who are these people?), and whatever political message it's trying to send (gay people are people, too?) feels forced and trite.
Those three (small) things aside, it's an amazing adaptation of a story you probably didn't think needed any more adapting. And the costumes, by Catherine Zuber, are inspired. I don't want to give the surprises away—and the 5th Avenue Theatre doesn't either, which is why they gave me nothing but boring pictures to use (no pictures of anyone in drag, for example)—but I will say that the drag number in which Daniel transforms into Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time also includes onstage appearances by Princess Diana, Donna Summer, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Janet Reno, Margaret Thatcher, and Julia Child, each of them costumed to a tee.
There's also a laugh-out-loud number in act two when Mark Evans (playing the Pierce Brosnan part) sings about being a "Real Man" while weightlifting (and the other guys in the gym turn into his backup singers and validation providers). Jenn Gambatese, in the Sally Field role, does a creditable job with her stick-in-the-mud character. And Analise Scarpaci (as the eldest daughter) and Charity Angel Dawson (as the woman from the city who comes to inspect the home during a custody battle) have such phenomenal voices that audience members were murmuring about them afterward. Dawson practically stole the show with her powerful, unexpected pipes.
If you have a kid, take them. If you have a joint in your pocket, smoke it beforehand. My date was a woman in her early 60s whose mother was a tap dancer on Broadway, and we laughed so hard it hurt. The kids seated near us were laughing too, even though they had no idea what a Janet Reno is. It's fun for the whole family. This is your chance to see it before it goes to Broadway, where it will win Jerry Zaks even more Tony Awards. The guy's already got four; this musical's bound to win him a few more.
Mrs. Doubtfire plays at 5th Avenue Theatre through January 4.
* My brothers and I—children of divorce who watched this movie 3.2 million times between 1993 and 1996—still quote this line to each other all the time. It survives, intact, in this stage show.