The late, great Robin Williams had a plethora of iconic characters under his belt throughout his career. And Mrs. Doubtfire was perhaps one of his most ambitious. A blockbuster film that grossed more than $440 million, was a big hit with fans and critics and won two Golden Globes – including Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) for Williams – and an Oscar for Best Makeup, it is hard to imagine it being redone or to have Mrs. Doubtfire as a character brought back. But it’s been done. Mrs. Doubtfire the musical has been in development for a few years after many years of a film sequel being in talks and never coming to fruition before Robin sadly passed away in 2014.
Now, even after a rough few years since the idea first came up in 2015, Mrs. Doubtfire has finally made her reappearance. The show has been tested in Seattle and on Broadway but debuted in the UK at Manchester’s Opera House, where the Back to the Future: The Musical had its world premiere in 2020, proving Manchester’s growing and present power in the nation’s theatre industry. And after some hesitancy of whether Mrs. Doubtfire the musical could be as big a classic as the film, its charm, emotion and hilarity certainly puts your mind at rest – even if it will of course never quite fill the big hideous blouse of the original Mrs. Doubtfire.
The core of the story remains pretty much the same, though with some minor plot and character changes, such as making Miranda a hip fashion designer, Daniel’s brother Frank’s husband being called Andre, the boss at the station Daniel works at being a woman, and Stu being a younger and fitter man rather than of similar age to Daniel and Miranda. Its setting has also been brought forward to the present day, with references and usages of mobile phones, iPads and WiFi. There are of course nods to and direct quotes from scenes in the original film that audiences will love and have expected, but even the newer jokes and lines are in the line with how you can imagine Williams would have said them, making them not feel out of place at all.
Gabriel Vick as Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire has definitely been studying Robin Williams’ impeccable comedic timing, skills and delivery well, showing that while the original is hard to replicate and hard to forget, his legacy and influence lives on in others. From his humorously over-the-top voices, including the sweet yet firm Scottish accent of Mrs. Doubtfire, to his ability to switch between the mannerisms and personality of childish but desperate Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire (whilst putting on a farce and trying not to slip back into Daniel’s shoes in some scenes), Gabriel commands the stage as both characters, doing Williams pretty good justice.
However, another of the show’s standouts is Carla Dixon-Hernandez as Daniel and Miranda’s eldest child Lydia. Though probably quite a bit older than her character’s age of fifteen years old, her mature voice adds real depth to her as her yo-yo relationship with her father is just as prominent as the broken and seemingly irreparable one between her parents. In addition, Cameron Blakely and Marcus Collins of X Factor fame more often than not steal the spotlight as Frank and Andre, both of whom are extra and extravagant.
But one of the problems new shows like this and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie for example, always seem to face – especially when they are based on films (like Legally Blonde and 101 Dalmatians) which are not already musicals or don’t have well known songs in them – is that the music can often be forgettable, even if at the time they appear catchy and are enjoyable nonetheless. Many of the songs from Mrs. Doubtfire are no doubt good, but not ones you can imagine being instant classics in musical theatre. Though highlights include Make Me a Woman, the camp, flashy and star-studded following the transformation from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire, the pop-rock tinged What the Hell sang by the children, the bizarre but funny Easy Peasy (which depicts the famous scene in which Mrs. Doubtfire sets fire to herself, though this moment is then lost in the mayhem of the singing and dancing), the emotional and retrospective Clean Up This Mess sung by Daniel as he realises the pickle he is in, and Just Pretend, the penultimate song and the poignant duet between Daniel and Lydia.
Sadly though, the finale was a little lacklustre. Finishing on what could have been rip-roaring song, the uplifting sounding As Long as There is Love was rather short and didn’t quite lift off anywhere. For example, the head-banging Rockin’ Now performed earlier in the show could have been reprised properly. On the flip side, the choreography was varied and slick, featuring flamenco, tap, Zumba-like performances and even Scottish jigs (or at least conflated Irish dancing), providing both laughs and claps for their humour and skill.
While it’s hard not to compare new adaptations to the original work of art, especially when it was headed by such a great talent as Robin Williams, it must be said that Mrs. Doubtfire the musical will not disappoint people who watch it as although they might not remember the music, they are sure to leave feeling a flood of nostalgia and joy. Whether it will tour after it’s month-long run in Manchester or transfer to the West End is not clear yet, but hopefully its nostalgia and joy can continue to be spread.