Mrs. Doubtfire was all set open in April of 2020. The show, based on the 1993 film of the same name, had completed its pre-Broadway tryout at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, and began preview performances at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on March 9, 2020.
Then the world changed. After only three performances, the cast of Mrs. Doubtfire was sent home. For a year-and-a-half. Finally, the Jerry Zaks-directed show, which is written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell with music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on December 5.
Rob McClure, who plays Daniel Hillard (the divorced dad who disguises himself as titular nanny in order to spend more time with his children), talked with Playbill about coming back to the role after the pandemic-forced break and how the time away affected the meaning of the show…for himself and for those coming to see it.
Did the time away change your perception of the show or how it’s landing with audiences?
Rob McClure: This show is all about the lengths to which we’d go to be with those we love. If that’s not more resonant now, after 19 months of isolation, I don’t know what is.
Not that it wasn’t landing before, but I think audiences are coming into these theatres now with a renewed sense of humanity…People are coming in with their hearts cracked wide open, ready to laugh all the laughs and feel all the feels.
How did you “get back into character” after so much time off?
I have a 3-year-old daughter that I’ve spent the pandemic raising, protecting, and entertaining…so I’m not sure I ever got that far away from Daniel Hillard.
From the puppets of Avenue Q, to the silent film work in Chaplin and now a latex mask in Mrs. Doubtfire, a few of your Broadway roles have, by design, seemed to restrict your abilities to use your whole instrument. In what ways do you compensate for those elements you are not able to use?
Interesting question. I’ve never really considered them restrictions to be compensated for. If anything, they are enhancements…When it comes to the Doubtfire mask, I’m lucky that it has been so meticulously crafted. It has to handle so much practical use as it’s tossed around the stage and ripped on and off dozens of times a show, while being nuanced enough to maintain the illusion and convince the audience that my family, a foot from my face, wouldn’t recognize me. It took lots of time in the mirror, exploring its range and motion, before I started to feel comfortable in someone else’s skin. Literally.
Speaking of Chaplin and of Robin Williams, who created the role of Mrs. Doubtfire in the original film, how do you honor their work, but still create a character that is all your own?
When dealing with beloved originators, it’s a tricky thing. I never try to recreate their performances, but what I do try to tap into is how those performances made me feel. Once the audience catches a dose of the same goosebumps or belly laughs they got from the source material, then they will follow you anywhere.
And, just for fun, using a newspaper or book near you to create it (à la Mrs. Doubtfire), what would your nanny nom de guerre be?
The Very Hungry NannyPillar.
Catch McClure in his Tony-nominated role as Mrs. Doubtfire, running through May 29 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.