Mrs. Doubtfire is a beloved childhood film for me and so many others. Starring the late Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire tells the story of a divorced dad and the lengths he goes to to be with his children. While the situation is exaggerated (Who would honestly dress up as an old Scottish woman to spend time with their children?), the sentiment is something that strikes the hearts of nearly all who watch it. Being such a beloved film, Mrs. Doubtfire is prime for a musical adaptation, which has finally arrived in Detroit on its National Tour.
Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical began its journey from screen to stage back in 2019, making its world premiere in Seattle. Ultimately it was supposed to open on Broadway in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic shelved that until over a year later. After closing in NYC, the show is now on its first national tour, with a few changes/additions. Tony-nominated Rob McClure (who originated the role of Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire from Workshop to Broadway) continues his run now on this tour. The show features music and lyrics from Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, with the latter writing the story with John O’Farrell, and directed by Jerry Zaks. So is Mrs. Doubtfire an exciting musical for the entire family? In my opinion, it might be better than the original. Read on to find out why.
[Warning: Spoilers from Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical are below!]
From divorced father to quirky nanny
Daniel Hillard (McClure) is a fantastic father, but not such a great husband. Much like Peter Pan, he wants to have all of the fun, without any of the responsibility. Taking the children out of school, throwing parties when he isn’t supposed to, just short of going to Disney World, to win the happiness and love of his children. But this inability to mature wears thin on Miranda (Maggie Lakis), who is working hard to provide for the family.
As is typical when there is such a large difference in values among partners, cracks begin to form, resulting in Miranda asking for a divorce, ultimately shattering Daniel’s delicate reality. Making matters worse, the judge assigned to their case doesn’t believe Mr. Hillard to be responsible enough to care for his children, giving Miranda sole custody. However, after Daniel’s plea, the judge agrees to reconsider in three months, if he can get a steady income and a safe place for the children to visit.
Determined to do his best, Daniel sets out to find a way to spend time with his children, but also works extensively to meet the criteria that the judge sets forth. So it seems like the best of both worlds when his ex-wife decides to hire a nanny for their three children: Lydia (Giselle Gutierrez), Christopher (Axel Bernard Rimmele in this performance), and Natalie (Kennedy Pitney in this performance). Enlisting the help of his brother Frank (Aaron Kaburick) and his husband Andre (Nik Alexander), Daniel creates the larger-than-life Mrs. Doubtfire, a calm and patient Scottish nanny, who might be just what the Hillard family is looking for.
However, things become more complicated the longer Daniel plays make-believe, as his tangled webs get more complicated for everyone involved. Those who have seen the film know exactly how Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical ends, but watching it play out on stage feels even more magical.
The positives and negatives of Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical
Before getting the opportunity to review the show, I didn’t have a strong interest in seeing Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical. In my head, I didn’t think anything could get close the the magic that Robin Williams created in the original film. He was a genius in his art, everything he touched was comedic gold. It didn’t seem possible that someone could walk into those gigantic shoes and create something special like his predecessor.
So it was almost a complete shock how blown away I was when saw Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical. I was completely blown away. The show captures the essence of the original and improves upon it. Some of the scenes feel like exact replicas of their movie counterparts, with those scenes being some of the best parts of the film. However, there’s a ton added to the story, which led to a greater stage adaptation. One such storyline was the change of Miranda’s career from interior designer to fashion designer, which added some new gags with Mrs. Doubtfire. It also helped to add some drama, with more situations in which Daniel might get caught.
Perhaps the best addition is the music, which helps to move the story along in rather exciting ways. Every song fit so well with the story, many of them upbeat tunes that kept the energy alive for the show. I was in awe of “What the Hell”, specifically Giselle Gutierrez as Lydia. It’s no exaggeration to say that Gutierrez is one of the best singers I’ve seen on that stage, with her range impressive and skills apparent in every song she sings.
Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical is also one of the most hilarious shows I’ve seen on stage in a while. Some parts were so outrageous that I just sat there with my mouth agape, or laughing so hard my eyes watered. If you loved the energy of the film, then the amplified energy of the musical is right up your alley.
The costume changes between Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire were exceptional, doing so quickly in ways that are impressive to watch. I was hesitant about how well they would be able to do it, especially during the dinner scene where he changes multiple times in a matter of minutes. However they managed it, they nailed it. Every single time it happened, I was in awe of the stage magic they produced.
The cast of Mrs. Doubtfire is something to behold, with real-life husband and wife McClure and Lakis leading the charge. Rob McClure is a gift as Daniel, bringing a ton of heart to the character, even more so than Williams did in the film. He steps into Williams’ shoes perfectly, being able to keep up with the physical comedy and slap-stick humor in a way that not many could do. He has the perfect energy and vibes for Daniel, which is on par with children hyped up on sugar. It’s the only way to do the role justice and I cannot imagine anyone else who could easily do the role. McClure has become the quintessential Mrs. Doubtfire in my mind, with all others having a high bar to meet.
Lakis’ Miranda was also fantastic, adding a lot of nuance to the role. As a child watching the film, you tend to see her as the villain keeping Daniel from his children, but as an adult, you can see her point of view. She just wants what’s best for her children and unfortunately, Daniel’s inability to grow up feels like a problem I couldn’t understand that then, but I can now. That being said, Lakis plays Miranda with a bit less of a cold shoulder than her film counterpart Sally Field. Instead, Lakis’ Miranda shows the ups and downs of the divorce emotional roller coaster, which is important to show. Even when you ask for a divorce, it’s not easy, no separation is. Lakis showcases that beautifully.
As stated above, Giselle Gutierrez is a powerhouse in Mrs. Doubtfire. Her acting ability is some of the best in the show and her singing even outshines that. For someone so young, being only 19, Gutierrez is truly a star in every sense of the word. I see a long and lustrous future for her on Broadway, even becoming a household name.
Some of the issues that are present in the film are also present here. The one that stood out the most to me is the portrayal of queer characters in the show. Frank and Andre feel like stereotypes rather than fully developed characters, which feels like a shame. There are a ton of updates to the story, I had hoped that there would be a bit more to these characters.
Final thoughts on the Broadway in Detroit production of Mrs. Doubtfire
Overall, Mrs. Doubtfire is a delightful comedy musical for the whole family. Nearly everything about the show is impressive, with dynamic sets, that help the actors bring to life this brilliant show. The music is great, updating the story past the 90’s, creating something worth seeing when it comes to a city near you.