All the advantages of movie, and all the constraints of theater when it lazily follows in a movie’s footsteps, are starkly evident within the numbing, uninteresting, and astonishingly flat Mrs. Doubtfire, which opens Sunday evening on Broadway. Most infuriating: It’s displaying on the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, which seems an especially egregious blasphemy.
The still-popular 1993 film starred Robin Williams as Daniel Hillard, a man-child divorced from his spouse who then drags up as an older Scottish feminine nanny to dad or mum his personal youngsters and to earn cash he must show to the courts that he is usually a accountable individual. Mrs. Doubtfire ultimately turns into a TV star, counseling America’s youngsters—as her well-known closing speech goes—that there are every kind of households, together with divorced ones like Daniel’s, and to reassure the watching preteen plenty that the world will go on.
One thing horrible has occurred in the translation from screen to stage. The advantages of close-ups are right here absent. The advantages of enhancing usually are not right here. So all of the film’s slapstick—can Daniel develop into/out of drag in time to forestall discovery?; that is your complete plot—in actual time simply performs as a belabored endurance pantomime.
On display, the magic of moviemaking meant that Robin Williams’ theatrics have been thrilling to look at. On stage, Rob McClure as Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire works onerous. This isn’t doubtful. McClure—excellent in the pre-pandemic Broadway reimagining of Beetlejuice—is charming but in addition oddly absent on the middle of the manufacturing. His drag/out-of-drag efficiency is basically like watching somebody chop wooden, carry that wooden right into a home, place it by the fireplace, after which return to cut extra wooden, and repeat till there isn’t any extra wooden.
It’s spectacular to see McClure work himself right into a state of frenzy, however there’s nothing emotionally rooting past this physicality. What’s all of it for? you retain considering. Daniel and spouse Miranda (Jenn Gambatese) appear ill-suited and completely missing in chemistry (she appears extra pissed off dad or mum than associate), so you don’t actually care if they’re collectively or not. Sure, they’ve youngsters, however these youngsters are clearly beloved by each dad and mom, so the place is the stress?
The drag/discovery set-pieces go on an agonizingly very long time—moderately sufficient, as a result of altering garments takes a very long time on this context—or are folded into hideously clunky songs. The movie zipped alongside. The theater model grinds discordantly.
When it was translated to Broadway, Tootsie struggled with the identical drawback. We have been inspired to chuckle at a straight man dressing up as a girl—the taking off of garments, the padding, the tooth, the prosthetic masks, the not-remembering to decrease or elevate the tone of the voice. However with out the tightness of movie enhancing, the scenes of transformation are lengthy yawns of unfilled time.
Additionally, in 2021, is that this nonetheless a joke? In an period the place Drag Race reigns supreme, the place younger persons are entertained by Drag Queen Story Instances, and the place the boundaries of gender and efficiency are blurred and far mentioned, how innately humorous is the concept of a person in a gown?
Mrs. Doubtfire is now set within the current day, however there isn’t any deeper examination—and my goodness, this musical is lengthy, it may have match it in—of what Daniel is as much as culturally, mimicking femininity to trick an precise girl, which performs as humiliation. Nobody asks him about gender presentation, or the lives, pleasures, risks, and nuances confronted by non-binary and trans people (and the play, just like the movie, is about in San Francisco, for goodness’ sake).
In McClure’s massive transformation scene—an enormous, drag-based song-and-dance sequence—the one humorous line comes with positing the inspirations of Mrs. Doubtfire as Margaret Thatcher and Janet Yellin, not conventional drag icons like Cher.
The story doesn’t know what it desires to be: comedy, circus, or Kramer vs. Kramer. On movie, the beats of a screenplay allowed Robin Williams to fizz whereas executing the bodily comedy, after which decelerate to convincingly sketch a flailing doofus in a wedding he has undermined from inside. Extra crucially, although the spouse’s half then, as now, is completely sexist in its writing, the film allowed Sally Discipline some area to shade Miranda past the essential sourpuss notes she is given. They each may play comedy. They each slowed down for the weepy bits.
“How the play attracts Miranda, and the misogyny and lack of character growth it throws on her, ruins ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ nonetheless a lot padding and palaver McClure deploys to proceed his exhausting charade.”
The stage manufacturing careens bizarrely out and in of emotional registers. Poor Gambatese, as Miranda. The play sketches Miranda as a dreary nag, who’s by some means within the incorrect for requiring her husband take some accountability in household life. She is the worst drawn character within the play, and completely one-dimensional. She will get no jokes. In Act II she will get an enormous music, “Let Go,” expressing her emotions. However it’s a clunker, and it’s too late. She and Daniel haven’t any sexual or romantic spark.
We now have no sense of them being collectively, and so being aside doesn’t appear so terrible, particularly as they appear so incompatible. What the hell occurred to this marriage? The best way it’s performed, nobody is horrible, so how and why on earth do these two get divorced, if solely within the service of the plot?
How the play attracts Miranda, and the misogyny and lack of character growth it throws on her, ruins Mrs. Doubtfire, nonetheless a lot padding and palaver McClure deploys to proceed his exhausting charade. Here’s a present whose central joke is man-dresses-as-woman (which in itself turns into ever extra silly), which actively undermines its chief feminine character, who actually just isn’t within the incorrect, who completely ought to anticipate extra from her husband, and who shouldn’t be the default villain for anticipating as a lot. Any individual get Gambatese a drink. There isn’t any extra thankless position on Broadway proper now.
The same killjoy mantle is borne by Charity Angél Dawson as social employee Wanda, relegated to finger-waggling at Daniel’s dwelling preparations, till she too is given a transformational music to mild up the stage. Mrs. Doubtfire paints feminine accountability, and a feminine insistence on accountability, as constraining and oppressive, set towards the male want to play, which is seen as pure and expressive.
The present punishes Miranda for having expectations of her male associate, to take advantage of affordable calls for of him. Miranda’s music stating her unhappiness doesn’t actually serve a game-changing objective. You simply sit there livid that she needed to sing it within the first place to get Daniel’s consideration about the place he fell quick.
Within the film, Pierce Brosnan performed the fly within the ointment, the oleaginous Stuart, as each charming and smarmy. Brosnan was a scrumptious mixture of suave and terrible, enjoying towards his Bond picture as Miranda’s post-divorce paramour. You possibly can see why Miranda would go for Stuart, and likewise cheer Mrs. Doubtfire as she sought to do him down.
However right here, Mark Evans in the identical position has not been given, or written, any edge—regardless of having one of many night’s greatest songs, set in a gymnasium, the place all the opposite males understanding act as an appreciative Greek refrain of the bicep king of their midst. He’s much less low-humming villain as Brosnan performed him than inoffensive lunk.
The Hillard youngsters (performed by Analise Scarpaci, Jake Ryan Flynn, and Avery Promote) do cute and angst successfully sufficient however are as hobbled as their grownup friends by simplistic characterization and plotting heavy-handedness.
“McClure’s closing Doubtfire speech stays a tear duct-teasing gem of an ending—a beautiful, good echo of Williams—that’s then ruined by a climactic song-and-dance sequence.”
Within the movie, Harvey Fierstein performed Williams’ brother Frank as his makeup-deploying associate in crime, alongside boyfriend Jack (Scott Capurro). Right here, Brad Oscar and J. Harrison Ghee play the roles, and at the least inject some arch enjoyable into some scenes (all primarily based round serving to Daniel evade discovery), however Ghee additionally questions—in a single comment, by no means answered—why Daniel is doing what it’s doing, because it appears to him to be an act of merciless deception.
A particular cheer ought to go to the wonderful, show-stealing/saving Peter Bartlett, who performs Mr. Jolly, a disconsolate youngsters’s TV entertainer, who brings a swag bag of facial mugging and steals the present, enjoying a sort of Norma Desmond-meets-Mr. Rogers.
McClure’s closing Doubtfire speech stays a tear duct-teasing gem of an ending—a beautiful, good echo of Williams—that’s then ruined by a climactic song-and-dance sequence as a result of… nicely, who is aware of? Perhaps as a result of the considering is, how else can a Broadway musical finish? McClure’s undoubted onerous work, and dedication to nailing all his outfit adjustments, just isn’t sufficient to recast Mrs. Doubtfire as its personal vibrant musical self, distinct from the film. This isn’t a pale imitation, it’s a foul one. And a useless one.