MRS DOUBTFIRE

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _SHAFTESBURY THEATRE.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _JUNE 2024.

June 23, 2023

images © Manuel Harlan.

Roaring, as it does, into The Barber of Seville’s ‘Largo al factotum’ (‘Figaro’ may ring more bells), before segueing into a soundtrack popping along to the likes of Aerosmith, Sinatra and The Four Seasons, it isn’t difficult to conceive of the idea of 1993’s smash-hit Mrs Doubtfire being given its own makeover into a musical. For sure, there’s the thorny issue of having to find someone who can navigate stepping out from the buxom, smoking shadow of the late Robin Williams’ soulful, Golden Globe-winning performance, but much like another renowned musical offering, get your ‘Effie’ right and it’s plain-sailing to musical theatre goodness, surely?

If nothing else, the vibrant, spirited Doubtfire that Jamie Wilson, Jerry Zaks and company open on the West End this week can certainly claim to have gotten its casting on-point. Direct from the show’s limited run at Manchester’s Opera House last Autumn, it isn’t hard to see why Gabriel Vick was invited back to reprise the title role for its London debut. He’s a barnstorming, comedic tour-de-force, channeling a turn that respectfully encircles Williams’ beloved screen performance, whilst still crafting something distinctly attuned to his own instincts. As recently-divorced, down-on-his-luck Daniel Hillard, a struggling actor who ends up posing as a kindly Scottish nanny in order to spend time with his children, Vick is superb.

The broader strokes of this showy spectacle don’t afford the character quite the same degree of soul or moments of quiet as the film – the emotional beats here are fairly on-the-nose and confined to mostly serviceable tunes – but when it comes to the comedy and sheer physicality of his Euphegenia, Vick fires on all cylinders. Iconic moments, such as some whip-sharp choreography with a vacuum cleaner, are present and executed to perfection, and the show shrewdly keeps Daniel’s penchant for impressionism. Freewheeling through everything from Homer Simpson, King Charles to the perhaps inevitable Boris Johnson bumbling, Vick’s comic relish is relentless and infectious. There’s even a cheeky Jack Nicholson (a Williams calling card) thrown in for good measure.

‘My name? I thought I gave it to you, dear?…’ Chris Columbus’ 1993 ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘  was adapted from Anne Fine‘s 1987 novel ‘Madame Doubtfire‘ (first edition pictured above, © Hamish Hamilton). The film, which featured a memorable, Golden Globe-winning performance from the late, great Robin Williams proved an enormous hit; going on to be the second-highest grossing film of 1993, after only ‘Jurassic Park’. No mean feat, considering the latter became, for a period, the most successful Box Office release of all time.

Curiously, it’s where Mrs Doubtfire veers furthest from the original film that it most seems to hit upon its strengths. Daniel’s ex-wife Miranda (Laura Tebbut), memorably played by a steely Sally Field on screen, is here repurposed as a burgeoning fashion designer, and a wholly new set piece where Mrs D is conscripted into modelling plus size sportswear for a fashion is not only a hoot, but it also one of the few times where the show really seems to be flexing its musical theatre muscles. Elsewhere, Daniel’s brother, hair and make-up designer Frank (Cameron Blakely), and partner Andre (Marcus Collins) feature more prominently, and are given some fun wrinkles including an adoption subplot and Frank’s giggle worthy tendency to shout whenever he’s forced to lie (hint; most of the time). Their big number, ‘Make Me A Woman’ proves particularly fun.

“Curiously, it’s where Mrs Doubtfire veers furthest from the original film that it most seems to hit upon its strengths.”

It’s just a slight shame that, outside of its spirited vignettes, Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s music doesn’t really make a compelling case for Mrs Doubtfire being a musical. A Siri-focused cooking tutorial, that culminates in the iconic moment of Euphegenia’s smoking mammaries, is fun but superfluous, whilst a late-game aria from a scorned flamenco dancer (Lisa Mathieson on scintillating, scene-stealing form) is hilarious, and probably the closest the show comes to having the music purposely drive forward narrative and event. But much of the character-centric numbers feel formulaic and halting, even when they are beautifully delivered by Tebbut and Carla Dixon-Hernandaz – regularly impressive as eldest Hillard daughter Lydia – in particular.

‘My name? I thought I gave it to you, dear?…’ Chris Columbus’ 1993 ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘  was adapted from Anne Fine‘s 1987 novel ‘Madame Doubtfire‘ (first edition pictured above, © Hamish Hamilton). The film, which featured a memorable, Golden Globe-winning performance from the late, great Robin Williams proved an enormous hit; going on to be the second-highest grossing film of 1993, after only ‘Jurassic Park’. No mean feat, considering the latter became, for a period, the most successful Box Office release of all time.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Daniel himself gets precious few moments to carry musically. An Act II back-and-forth with Samuel Edwards’ burly love rival Stuart (whom Edwards does an admirable job of crafting out beyond the character’s fairly anaemic writing) is peppy and characterful, and Vick does fine work with the odd spot of soul-searching, but overall it seems something of a missed opportunity that the Kirkpatricks were unable to find a way to channel the character’s chameleonic vocals into song.

Karey has more success with the book, which, co-penned with John O’Farrell, has been given some tweaks and polish since Broadway and Manchester both, offering up some welcome injections of modernity. It checks off most of the essentials; you won’t be left disappointed if you go in expecting your Guiness truck laments, pudding-slathered ‘helloooooo!’s, and quips of ‘run-by fruiting’.

“It checks off most of the essentials; you won’t be left disappointed if you go in expecting your Guiness truck laments, pudding-slathered ‘helloooooo!’s, and quips of ‘run-by fruiting’.”

But there are updates, too. From the small – an aquarium-plunged tv remote becomes withheld wifi (pronounced, naturally, ‘whiffy’) and as mentioned, Siri, invasive Youtube commercials and other contemporary flourishes filter in.

The cast of characters get some welcome improvements, too. Kelly Agbowu’s court enforcement officer Mrs Sellner is given a little more dimension (not to mention intelligence), whilst Tebutt’s Miranda crucially gets afforded more empathy, as we witness her sitting in solo on marriage therapy sessions, and later beautifully crooning her former marital anguish to a disguised Daniel. Elsewhere, Micha Richardson, as TV executive Janet Lundy, is a deliciously deadpan and fun gender-swap.

There’s a lot to love and enjoy about Mrs Doubtfire on stage, not least of all its sublime central turn, and a fantastic supporting company about it. Zaks and choreographer Lorin Latarro keep it moving at a brisk, punchy pace, and a superlative ensemble deliver everything from high-kicking chefs to even Doubtfire clones with characterful vim and energy. David Korins‘ staging looks suitably big-budget for the West End, with the Hillard homestead in particular an effective, multi-faceted yet homely depiction of space.

The prosthesis and transformation Daniel undergoes to become the titular creation is understandably quicker and more perfunctory than on-screen, resulting in something that registers a trifle distracting at first, but when we’ve already suspended our disbelief to watch the likes of Princess Diana, Donna Summers and Eleanor Roosevelt strut along in a glitzy chorus line, it’s all good.

Much like the lady herself, Mrs Doubtfire is a show that, if not always entirely convincing, is immediately likeable, eventually loveable, and oodles of fun along the way. It honours what has come before, whilst still finding its own voice and identity – even if you are left wishing that it had taken that search for individuality just a knotch or two further. Come what may, though, broken handbags be damned, it isn’t difficult to imagine it being a big hit in London, and a firm new family favourite for ‘poppets’ of every age.

Which leaves just one final, inevitable call…

Help is on the way, dears.

Euphegenia is here, and she can hip-hop, be-bop, dance ’til she drops and yo, yo, make a wicked new show, show.

Whilst it doesn’t always entirely convince of its repurposing as a musical, a tremendous, hilarious Vick and wonderful supporting company deliver an energetic, bouoyant and plenty-fun new spectacle to laugh, hip-hop and be-bop along to. London, brace yourself – a new (not-so-real) Effie has arrived and she’s a dream, girl (…sort of).

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