“I want to play that part.” That was Rob McClure’s first thought when he heard that Mrs. Doubtfire was being adapted into a stage musical. Producer Kevin McCollum, with whom McClure worked on Avenue Q and Something Rotten!, had the rights. Brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, the creators of Something Rotten!, were writing it. McClure quickly went from starring in a reading of the show to opening the musical in Seattle in December and now headlining on Broadway—where the musical is happily ensconced at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
“We had just spent three years together on Something Rotten!,” McClure says of the creative process. “So we were buddies, and they know what I can and can’t do. They would say, ‘Hey, can you do these 30 impressions?’ And I would go, ‘I can’t do these eight. But I can do these 15, do you want to write jokes for these?’ And so it was really wonderfully collaborative.”
Not to mention McClure’s immediate rapport with director Jerry Zaks, with whom he imagined he would share an uncannily similar comedic sensibility. While in rehearsals he realized: his musical comedy sense of humor was molded by… Jerry Zaks productions. “I was like, ‘Oh… it’s the same because you were literally my musical comedy teacher. No wonder.’”
A massive box office hit, the 1993 movie followed divorced actor Daniel Hillard, who resorts to disguising himself as matronly nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire to see his kids. Now set in present-day, the musical’s story is as current as it gets. “The show has really expanded past divorced households and into unconventional structures of family that resonate in a 2020 world,” McClure says. “And the adaptation is smart and funny and honors the thing you know, but it also brings you to places that you didn’t know this story could take you.”
Of course, the heartfelt comedy brings with it expectations and fans’ photographic memories of the original performances, shored up by repeated viewing on television (in 2013, it was aired no less than 66 times). As McClure says, “The audience has a certain expectation,” particularly when it comes to Robin William’s original performance. “I don’t have to copy that expectation, but I need them to know that I’m going to honor it. And I feel like once you establish their trust, then they’ll let me take her somewhere new.”
Rest assured, fans: With McClure, both Mrs. Doubtfire and audiences are in good hands.