Loud, long, sustained, relentless laughter might best describe The 5th Avenue Theatre’s opening night of the new Broadway bound musical Mrs. Doubtfire. Last night’s show clearly demonstrated that this Seattle production is simply on an on-ramp to what appears to be a very successful Broadway run, or at least future Tony nominations. I know I might be putting the cart before the horse, but I can’t imagine any comedic display in any location outshining the masterfully exuberant, joyful, cross-dressing comedic performance of Rob McClure playing Daniel Hillard playing Mrs. Doubtfire. He brings such personality to his performance that the audience is able to powerfully connect with him, even while he is hidden within his elaborately convincing Scottish grandmotherly nanny attire. Everything McClure does has purpose and personality, to such an extent that I couldn’t tell if he was acting or channeling the part. It almost felt as if the movie Mrs. Doubtfire was somehow based on McClure’s performance.
The show is first and foremost funny. The songs are catchy, with almost no throwaway numbers, but one possible exception I will address later. The cast compliments each other well, with the kids just thoroughly doing everything right. The choreography is crisp, clear and energetically engaging. The set design is stimulating and evokes the right emotional weight for each scene. I honestly found the first half of the musical to be about as pleasing and perfect as any night of comedic musical theater I’ve ever experienced. People were beaming with excitement during the intermission.
The second half of Mrs. Doubtfire also keeps the show moving at just the right comedic pace. As the show progresses, the chaos rapidly increases, culminating in a humorous resolution to Mrs. Doubtfire’s duplicitous madness. If you want to laugh and watch gifted performers at the height of their craft, Mrs. Doubtfire is a sure thing. [Insert groan inducing pun using “no doubt about it” here.]
Although there are enough merits for me to recommend the show, I do need to express my genuine frustration with the ending. If you don’t want any spoilers, then you should stop reading right now……I mean it….stop reading if you don’t want spoilers!!!!
Mrs. Doubtfire is ultimately a comedy about divorce. The show starts with the premise that Daniel Hillard is a detached husband who really doesn’t understand how irresponsible he is in his marriage and parenting. Through the show he changes and becomes a better, more responsible person. Even so, this is not enough to save his marriage. The message of the musical seems to be even if people change and meet all the complaints of their spouse, divorce is inevitable. In other words, Daniel’s progress does little to rectify his marriage woes but to garner some basic civility in a custody dispute.
Regardless of what Daniel becomes, the message of Mrs. Doubtfire seems to be “divorce happens and we gotta just move on and sing about a generic conception of love.” That was my big problem with being able to feel too good at the end of the musical. The last number of the show has a sort of a generic, distant, “love who you love as long as you can love them” kind of vibe and we are supposed to feel good about it. The theme seems to be that people just fall in and out of love with whomever they want and then they just start loving someone else when that doesn’t work out. As long as we sing a happy song at the end, it’ll be ok. For me, I find little comfort in that theme, I’ve seen too much trauma. I understand there are reasons for divorce, but I was left at the end of Mrs. Doubtfire seeing the lead characters as rather selfish. Others might not feel this way, but I had connected too much with the kids to believe their home should ever be broken apart.
That was the ultimate struggle I had with a night that was so full of comedic connection. The fruit of all this work and connection was ultimately a broken family and a distant nebulous song. Which might be the reality of life, but not the best reality for a feel-good comedy. Regardless, and I’m sorry for being such a downer, everything else was comedic gold.
Douglas Bursch is the author of Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It. He also pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington.