When the premiere engagement of a big Broadway musical is interrupted twice by the COVID pandemic, it helps to have an unflappable star in the title role. In the case of Mrs. Doubtfire, the fabulous, family-friendly new show about a divorcing dad who morphs into a Scottish nanny, Rob McClure has been a steady presence at an unsteady time. After playing just three previews in March 2020, the show entered a 19-month hiatus before returning to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in October 2021; another pause ensued on January 9, 2022, in response to the omicron variant. Now, McClure and his Mrs. Doubtfire castmates are prepping for a triumphant open run that began April 14.
The down-to-earth McClure deflects praise for his astonishing performance in Mrs. Doubtfire, which involves 31 quick changes and two very different characterizations: unemployed actor Daniel Hillard and Euphegenia Doubtfire, the persona Daniel creates in order to spend more time with his three children. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most thrilling and rewarding,” McClure told Broadway Direct during a January 2020 interview. In the two years since then, he’s been unfazed by the challenge of starting and restarting the production.
“When the pressure is on, Rob does not panic,” says Jerry Zaks, the four-time Tony Award–winning director of Mrs. Doubtfire. “He is strong, he is fearless, and he is immensely talented. As kind and as decent a guy as he is, Rob is also ferocious when it comes to the work. He’s a perfectionist. Of the many great actors I have worked with — and I’m not going to name names because I don’t want to leave anybody out — Rob has in common with all of them a determination to make his performance as good as it can be. You would want Rob McClure flying your plane.”
During a recent catch-up chat with Broadway Direct, Mrs. Doubtfire’s self-effacing pilot reflected on his journey with the show and the silver lining of the pandemic.
You’re in the unique position of coming back to Broadway after a three-month hiatus, which was preceded by the lengthy shutdown. Can you sum up what the past two years have been like?
It certainly magnifies the theme of our show: How far would you go to be with the people you love? Even without COVID, when you work in the theater, you’re signing up for a scrappy life of peaks and valleys. This has been the most extreme version, but we’re so lucky that our company has taken on the culture of family — we’re constantly checking on one another because we’re so desperate for the return of this art form we care so deeply about. It’s remarkable for any show to make it to Broadway, but I don’t think any of us will take that for granted ever again.
Broadway audiences absolutely love Mrs. Doubtfire, don’t they?
The response feels very profound. It’s easy to say, “We need to laugh,” and the show provides plenty of healing laughter, but it goes beyond that. People say, “This show has a big heart,” but, again, it goes deeper. It really is healing for families who may have gone through painful separations, whether through divorce or COVID. The show affects people on an almost spiritual level.
What have you learned about the character of Mrs. Doubtfire from performing her on Broadway?
There is an affection for this magical fictional character that Robin Williams created [in the 1993 hit movie], and when the audience bestows that affection on me, it’s a visceral feeling that is deeply moving. It means that the warmth associated with this story and this character is landing, and when I feel them giving themselves over to that, we can go on this ride together. That’s about as rewarding as it gets!
What is a typical performance like for you, with so many quick changes?
It’s like hanging on to the back of a freight train. And to be honest with you, I blink and it’s over. I am so lucky to have a team of dressers — we call them Team Effie, short for Euphegenia — that we joke are my Indianapolis 500 pit crew. Any time I come off stage, they’re there with all hands on deck. The longest I have to get into full Mrs. Doubtfire is 90 seconds, and the shortest is 18 seconds.
And the audience gets to see that superfast transformation!
That’s one thing we have over the movie: When we show the audience the magic trick of doing a full head-to-toe change in 18 seconds, they’re thinking, “I can’t believe this is really happening.” That’s what live theater can do. The magic of being able to see something happening in front of you in real time makes the comedy stakes that much higher.
Away from the theatre, how have you coped with the ups and downs of the pandemic?
If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s the amount of time I’ve gotten to spend with my wife [actress Maggie Lakis] and our 3-year-old. It’s crazy that two-thirds of my daughter’s life has been in COVID. I cherish the fact that I was given this time to be home with my family, regardless of the horrific nature of what was going on outside. I was lucky to pick up some TV work during the pandemic, to keep the ball in the air, and I teach a lot.
Your students can learn a lot from your career.
When they ask, “How did you audition for Mrs. Doubtfire?” I am privileged to say, “They offered me the part.” I can see their faces start to turn red, so I tell them that I actually had a 15-year audition. In 2006, I went to an open call for Kevin McCollum’s Tony-winning production of Avenue Q and stayed with it for three years; a decade later, I auditioned to replace Brian d’Arcy James in Kevin’s production of Something Rotten, proved myself on Broadway, and then did a full two-year national tour. By the time Kevin got the rights to adapt Mrs. Doubtfire into a musical, he knew what I was capable of. I had 15 years behind me to prove that I could be trusted with this.
What’s been the most exciting part of your experience with Mrs. Doubtfire?
Everything is pretty darn exciting! But I would have to say it was the first time I looked in the mirror after we went through about 13 variations of Mrs. Doubtfire’s face. When we finally had the finished look, I said, “That’s Mrs. Doubtfire!” As simple as it sounds, all I’ve ever wanted to do was play pretend well enough that people would pay me to do it. So to be the person inside [the makeup] making this beloved character come alive is a gift I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s a sublime privilege that I don’t take lightly.
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