After the critically lauded but soon-to-close “Tootsie,” will Broadway embrace “Mrs. Doubtfire” — another new musical based on a hit movie about a straight male actor who masquerades as an older woman, and in the process becomes a better man? And can any performer go toe-to-toe with the memory of Robin Williams’s 1993 movie turn as a desperate divorced father whose female alter ego is a wise and twinkly nanny?
The answer to that second question is largely yes, thanks to star Rob McClure. If the “Mrs. Doubtfire” musical now premiering at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre strikes gold is another matter — and has little to do with the cross-dressing gambit it shares with “Tootsie.” More pertinent is whether the creators can streamline their top-heavy, overly reverent adaptation of a dated film, in order to make it less cloying and more consistently funny.
But there’s no doubt about McClure. As a recovering screw-up and alternately a sage housekeeper, he deftly honors Williams’s dexterous two-fer performance without slavishly imitating it. Whether Daniel is mending fences with his kids, cavorting with puppets, or, as Mrs. Doubtfire, doling out bawdy wisecracks and spoonfuls of advice in a brogue-ish accent and dowdy duds, McClure brings winning sincerity and his own nimble, multi-voiced comic chops to the effort.
After well-reviewed turns in other Broadway musicals (most recently “Beetlejuice”), this impressive theatrical Everyman deserves a hit. But while it’s handsomely produced, smartly designed (by David Korins), and loaded with proven talents led by veteran director Jerry Zaks, “Mrs. Doubtfire” works so hard to preserve (and exaggerate) the movie’s charms, and stuff the two-and-a-half hour show with new shtick and scattershot updates (Paula Deen and Justin Bieber are among the name-checked) that it doesn’t separate the comic dross from the gold.
For their adaptation, the “Something Rotten!” team of Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick (who penned the “Doubtfire” score) and John O’Farrell (who co-wrote the book with Karey Kirkpatrick) lean very heavily on the “Mrs. Doubtfire” screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon. But the very busy show also crams in nearly 20 musical numbers, sundry pop-up dances and such additions (some humorous, others meh) as an aerobic tete a tete in a gym and (one of the better new gags) a nightmare chorus line of zombie-like Doubtfires (in the blow-out number “You Created a Monster”).
The up-tempo, pop-inflected tunes can be rousing (“I’m Rockin’ Now,” “Easy Peasy”), but some feel superfluous. And the blander, less distinctive ballads belabor the obvious. (An exception: a poignant father-daughter duet, “Just Pretend.”)
When not playing for laughs, the musical reiterates the film’s serious theme: the impact of divorce on children and parents.But the frenetic, extended opener “That’s Daniel” introduces the protagonist as not merely a fun-loving shmo, but an obnoxious jerk. (Quips daughter Natalie, “I’m five now and somehow I feel older than my dad.”)
When Daniel gets fired for hamming up a pizza ad and throws a raucous birthday party for adolescent son Christopher (Jake Ryan Flynn), it’s the last straw for wife Miranda (Jenn Gambatese), the family breadwinner and kill-joy. She ends the marriage (“I’m Done”), and with no job or home, Daniel loses custody of Christopher, Natalie (Avery Sell) and teenage Lydia (stand-out Analise Scarpaci). Until he gets his act together, the heartbroken dad can only see offspring once a week (“I Want to Be There”).
The farce gears turn when Daniel gets himself hired as the kids’ nanny by shapeshifting into a full-body costume whipped up by his make-up artist brother Frank and Frank’s husband (Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee, wasted in flimsy caricatures).
As McClure slips adroitly into the guise of warm, wise-cracking Mrs. D., Daniel matures enough to win over his loved ones despite several, ahem, close shaves. The bit where he juggles gender identities to put off a visiting social worker (Charity Angel Dawson) reminds you that some film gags are clunkier live.
Better: a quick-change gambit that bests the movie version. At a posh restaurant Daniel shuttles between a job interview as himself and a family dinner as Mrs. Doubtfire, while an impassioned flamenco song (“He Lied to Me”) mocks his unraveling duplicity.
The show closes on a message of inclusion (families come in all shapes, colors and genders), and an anthem of uplift with unusually syrupy lyrics from the clever Kirkpatricks. (“Time can heal/All is not lost/As long as there is love.”)
All is not lost with “Mrs. Doubtfire,” as Seattle audiences are responding favorably. (The run has extended into January.) But the show needs substantial editing, less schmaltz and more of its own identity and raison d’être to win over Broadway when it hits the Sondheim Theatre in March.