For ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ musical, these married actors took their kid and cats on tour – Daily News

Before “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the Broadway musical adaptation of the 1993 Robin Williams movie comedy, even opened, actor Rob McClure had already spent years on its development.

McClure played the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, and the character’s alter ego Daniel Hillard, in workshops as the fledgling musical was taken apart and put back together. He uprooted his life in Philadelphia with actress wife Maggie Lakis and their infant daughter for a month of out-of-town tryouts in Seattle.

Finally, when those ended, McClure and the “Doubtfire” production headed to New York City, riding a wave of terrific word of mouth and strong advance ticket sales before opening on Broadway.

“We had three previews … and it was March 12, 2020,” McClure says of the date that all the theaters on Broadway went dark as the coronavirus pandemic exploded. “The world shut down for 18 months, including Broadway.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire” finally opened on Broadway in December 2021. “Just in time for Omicron to hit New York and knock us out again,” McClure says with a rueful laugh.

McClure was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the musical, but with only 126 performances between previews and regular shows, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he and “Mrs. Doubtfire” had some unfinished business

He was approached about reprising the role for the national tour that started in September and hesitated. Then his wife was cast as Miranda Hillard, Daniel Hillard’s ex-wife, by whom he’s hired in the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire to be the nanny of their three children. With their daughter Sadie a year from starting kindergarten, the pieces fell into place.

“It was a chance to really do this iconic role that I had spent so long building and working on,” McClure says. “It’s a thrill to do, and I believe in the show. I always have, and I jumped at the chance to do it again.

“And a chance to do it with my family, with Maggie and our 5-year-old in tow. It’s just one crazy family adventure.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire” opens at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood on Tuesday, June 11 and runs through June 30. It returns to Southern California in the fall to play Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa from Sept. 24 to Oct. 6. (Lakis is leaving the show before the Orange County dates.)

In an interview edited for length and clarity, McClure and Lakis talked about life as an acting family, the transformation of “Mrs. Doubtfire” from movie to musical, what it’s like to drive 20,000 miles in a van with a 5-year-old and two cats, and how it felt to step into the big shoes of Robin Williams, who created Mrs. Doubtfire for the screen.

Q: Maggie, tell me how this all came together, you as Miranda, Rob back as Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Maggie Lakis: This is our third tour together. We toured with “Avenue Q” in 2007 to 2008, and we toured with “Something Rotten!” in 2017 and 2018. Those were all the same producer, so they knew we could live together, work together –

Rob McClure:  – and it wasn’t a risk to send us out on the road together.

Lakis: It’s just a joy to get to work together. This is our seventh time, our third tour. It’s just kind of a reminder of how special that your partner is every night.

Q: So what does it take to juggle acting life with family life, especially now that you’re parents, too?

McClure: I mean, it’s a constant negotiation as to what is worth separation and what is not. So that becomes an extra factor in the work you take. But we both have careers where we are fortunate enough to be able to be a little picky. You start to prioritize and see what is worth it and what isn’t. Especially now that Sadie is in the picture.

We were lucky that we had a lot of role model families, who raised well-adjusted, smart, sweet kids in an unconventional life. Stephanie Block and Sebastian Arcelus are good friends of ours, and their daughter had just done the ‘Into The Woods’ tour with them, so I gave them a call. They inspired us to give it a go, and I’m so glad we did. It’s been the best adventure, really it has.

Q: Is it true that you first met in a production of ‘Grease’?

McClure: We were Doody and Frenchy.

Lakis: Yeah, we say we met in ‘Grease’ but not the Mediterranean.

McClure: It’s far less romantic than Greece.

Q: Your daughter doesn’t start kindergarten until the fall, so she didn’t have any obligations to keep her off the road?

McClure: That was one of the reasons the tour made sense.

Lakis: And if anything, it helped. Because with COVID, everyone was locked down, but she was extra locked down because when he was doing ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ on Broadway, they didn’t want him to get sick, obviously, but kids get sick if they’re around other kids –

McClure:  – there was no daycare, there was no gymnastics –

Lakis: So this gave her an opportunity to kind of help her break out of her shyness, because COVID was really difficult for her. And (the cast and crew) have been so welcoming. She’s in the building. We have two sets of kids (in the show). They switch every night, and she hangs out with the kids that aren’t performing.

She has her own dressing room and they hang out and play during the show with her nanny. They do stuff like making their own skits up, so she’s having a blast and getting to feel some sense of community with the company.

McClure: It’s like her family is 60 people –

Lakis: – her family has big brothers and sisters.

Q: Does she have her name on her dressing room?

McClure: Yes she does, and she looks for it when we get to a new theater.

Lakis: They even gave her a slot on the sign-in sheet because she’s getting good with her letters.

McClure: In fact, yesterday we got up to her room and she went, ‘Oh, I forgot to sign in.’

Lakis: I know. I signed her in. That made her mad.

Q: I saw in an old Playbill article that you took two cats with you on the road when you toured with ‘Avenue Q’?

McClure: We have two cats with us now. They’re just different cats than they were then.

Lakis: We have a traveling circus. We travel in a van.

McClure: We’re approaching 20,000 miles in our van. It’s actually been awesome. Like maybe three weeks ago, we finished in New Orleans, and our next stop was in Tucson, and it was the only week break we have in the entire tour, because it took that long to get the set across the country.

So we did a Route 66 trip and we stayed at all the old 1950s neon sign places. We went to the Wigwam Motel and did all that. We try to take advantage of the tour that way. These amazing opportunities to see the country.

Q: And Sadie’s handling all the traveling well?

McClure: She loves it.

Lakis: The car has a little fold-down TV screen, so we’ll tell her how long the drive is by how many movies she’ll get to watch that day.

McClure: We sort of withhold screens from her during the week, so on the travel day it’s like, ‘We have a four-movie drive tomorrow.’

Q: Let’s segue to the musical, and how it transforms the movie. What’s the same, what changed?

McClure: So Wayne and Karey Russell, the brothers who wrote the music, and John O’Farrell, who wrote the book, they wanted to find the way into the music and where this story would sing. And what they found was that what’s going on for the kids in the story sang the most naturally. Believe it or not, they found a deleted scene on YouTube between Robin Williams and the oldest daughter, where he’s lost custody, and she says to him, ‘You’re an actor, why couldn’t you and mom just pretend for our sake?’

Then they find all the fun moments, like the cooking segment and other things where you can find really fun musical numbers. But in terms of the musical language of the show, it spawned out of what’s going on for the family.

Also, one of the things they did to the story that modernizes it in a way, is that in the movie you get the impression that the happy ending is that Miranda lightens up. And in the musical, when you first meet Daniel, he’s pretty unbearable. He’s so zany that the audience sees where she’s coming from. And it’s in Daniel becoming Mrs. Doubtfire and really learning how to be the father, that he deserves custody of his children. Which is a far more transformative journey to take an audience on in a theater.

Q: You both were kids when the movie came out. What kind of memories do you have from then?

Lakis: I watched it and thought it was a really funny movie and loved it. But I had friends who had come from families of divorce, and it meant so much to them. Because the happy ending wasn’t the parents getting back together.

McClure: It wasn’t ‘The Parent Trap.’

Lakis: That was the first time their lives were represented on screen, so it just felt important to them that that was a happy ending. I think that’s something that’s still important today.

McClure: I’m just shy of 300 letters since I started playing this part, from, I think, the youngest was a 9-year-old boy, all the way up to great-grandparents. The kid wrote me a letter saying, ‘I wish my father fought as hard to be with me as Daniel fights to be with his kids.’ One of the grandparents said, ‘I’m 68 years old and thought I had hashed out my parents’ divorce. Turns out I had not, because I was a wreck in your theater, and you brought me so much hope and affirmed my family.’

Q: I’d guess Robin Williams spent hours in the makeup chair becoming Mrs. Doubtfire. How do you do it on the fly every night?

McClure: I never like saying it’s better than the movie because that seems like sacrilege. But what I do think is more thrilling for the audience is that the theater magic isn’t magic at all, it’s real. So if I run in the other room and 18 seconds later Mrs. Doubtfire comes out, I had 18 seconds literally.

I do the transformation 31 times a show. The longest I have to do it is 90 seconds and the shortest is actually 18 seconds in the crazy restaurant scene at the end. I have a team of four that we lovingly call Team Effie, who are my Indianapolis 500 pit crew, who change my tires and send me back out.

What’s awesome is at least a handful of times these transformations happen in plain sight of the audience. So anyone going, ‘How are they going to do that?’ If you come see the show you will see exactly how we do it. The stakes of the comedy are richer because it’s real. So when they see me not quite transformed – and here comes the other character – ‘Oh my God, is he going to make it by the time they get to the door?

Q: Robin Williams is a tough act to follow for any actor. What was it like to step into Mrs. Doubtfire’s shoes after him?

McClure: It’s absolutely terrifying, right? I am one of the diehard fans who would be disappointed by the mishandling of it. So I sympathize with an audience who comes in with their arms folded a little bit, going like, ‘Don’t break this, dude.’ I get that. But there’s always a wonderful moment in the show every night where the audience gives me permission to borrow the character. And it’s palpable. I feel it.

It’s usually within the first phone call to Miranda, the first time they hear, ‘Hello-o-o!’ They go like, ‘Oh my God, that sounds like Mrs. Doubtfire.’ I think they respond if – knock on wood – I can make them feel the way I remember him making us feel. I think that’s what we’re after when we come to see the show, more so than any sense of impression.

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