by Kimberly Rau
If you get frustrated by reviews that tell you every show is a must see, keep reading.
The national tour of the musical Mrs. Doubtfire is at the Providence Performing Arts Center through this weekend, and the best thing to be said about it is that the cast is talented. Unfortunately, a talented cast, even one that’s making the most out of a bad script, isn’t enough to recommend a show.
If you recall the 1993 film, then you know the show is about man-child Daniel Hillard who would rather be his kids’ best friend than act like an adult, time and time again losing his job over creative differences and ignoring his wife Miranda’s parenting boundaries until she asks for a divorce. When she does, Daniel moves in with his brother, and the courts inexplicably tell him that he cannot see his kids more than once a week until he gets a decent job and his own place to live. In San Francisco. (This is even more bizarre in the musical, because his brother and brother-in-law are approved to adopt a baby, so it’s not like Daniel was couch-surfing in a crack den.)
Instead of putting in the effort to find a job, Daniel decides to lampoon Miranda’s attempts to find a nanny, dressing in drag to play the part of an elderly caregiver with a British accent. This is supposed to show how devoted he is to his kids. Really, it proves that Daniel could have been parenting, cooking and cleaning all along, he just didn’t feel the need to try until he could gaslight his soon-to-be-ex-wife into thinking he’s just the hired help. It all falls apart, of course, and Daniel almost loses everything, but family and love win in the end.
This was a hokey premise in 1993, when you had Robin Williams at the helm improvising some of the most iconic scenes in the movie. Turning it into a musical didn’t help anything. What was seen as amusing in the early 90s (Daniel changing the phone number of Miranda’s want ad) seems creepy today (Daniel hacking into Miranda’s email to change her ad). Most of the funny moments are lost between musical numbers that are shoehorned in, many of which don’t advance the plot. The latex mask that Daniel must wear was good in the film; translated to stage, it’s an uncanny valley of nightmares that only someone with a room temperature IQ could fall for as a convincing disguise. (The Scottish accent doesn’t exactly improve when spoken behind a strangely immobile wall of rubber either.) Did I mention it’s more than two and a half hours long, with an ending about as subtle as a Wiggles concert?
The actors are the best part about this show. Rob McClure reprises his Broadway role as Daniel, and plays the character very well. It’s not his fault the show stinks. Some of the best moments in the show (and there are some good moments) are when McClure really lets Daniel’s character run wild, particularly when he’s messing around at his job at the television studio. And it’s not Maggie Lakis’ fault that her lovely voice is lost on the few solos that Miranda gets. The kids (Giselle Gutierrez as Lydia, Axel Bernard Rimmele as Chris and Emerson Mae Chan as Natalie) are great. The brothers (Aaron Kaburik as Frank and Nik Alexander as husband Andre) are hilarious and play off each other’s energies beautifully. But the show falls flat and tries too hard to be something it never was, and the best actors in the world can’t save that. (Neither can watching Oscar Wilde doing disco splits, a particularly surreal moment during the montage where Frank and Andre are trying to figure out what Daniel’s “look” will be as a woman.)
Ultimately, this is a show that didn’t need to be made, and it hasn’t been made well. The few good moments in “Mrs. Doubtfire” are not worth the price of admission. Rent the movie instead; at least then if you don’t laugh, you’re only out a few bucks.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” runs through Oct. 22 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787.