Friday, December 10, 2021

Mrs. Doubtfire

      I received my first Christmas present last night.  Watching Rob McClure transform himself into the title character in Mrs. Doubtfire, the sparkling new Broadway musical at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, was pure gift.  Under the direction of Jerry Zaks, the first-rate cast of two dozen energetically brings to new life the 1993 film about the extreme measures a divorced father will take to see more of his three children.

     “I’m 15 now but sometimes I feel older than my dad,” says eldest child Lydia Hillard (Analise Scarpaci ).  

     It’s easy to see why.  Dad, Daniel Hillard, is an actor who specializes in voices and who seems unable to stop talking or moving.  The children enjoy him but his wife, Miranda, played with just the right amount of anger and exasperation by Jenn Gambatese, is worn down.  She files for divorce and is granted sole custody, setting in motion Daniel’s inventive way of staying in his children’s lives.

     Robin Williams was loved for his antic portrayal of Mrs. Doubtfire in the movie and McClure will be too for his part in the musical.  Watching the silliness live, though, is so much more fun.

     Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell have written the musical’s book.  Just as in the movie, Daniel comes up with the idea of disguising himself as a nanny when he learns Miranda is looking for one for the children, who also include Christopher (Jake Ryan Flynn), who is about 14, and elementary school-aged Natalie (Avery Sell).  Calling Miranda in response to her ad, he employs the voice of an elderly Scottish woman and, after he hangs up, realizes he’s going to have to look like one.

     Enter his brother, Frank (the always dependable Brad Oscar) and Frank’s husband, Andre Mayem (J. Harrison Ghee), theatrical costumers who tackle the challenge of transforming Daniel with gusto.  In the hilarious number “Make Me a Woman,” the couple envision Daniel as an assortment of glamorous women — Jackie O, Princess Diana and Donna Summer — who materialize in song and dance.  When Daniel remembers the voice he used he asks them for someone “older and studier.”  They quickly switch their fantasies to Eleanor Roosevelt, Julia Child, Janet Reno and Margaret Thatcher.  Choreographer Lorin Latarro has them all dancing together with Daniel, Frank and Andre to pulsing disco-beat music.  It’s a wacky delight, with music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick and lavish costumes by Catherine Zuber. 

     What they come up with when they put aside those dreams is the padded bodysuit with ample bust and derriere, ankle-length plaid kilt and sweater.  A mask gives Daniel a round, pudgy face (makeup and prosthetics design by Tommy Kurzman).  Add glasses and a short, tightly curled gray wig and, voila, Mrs. Doubtfire. 

     Daniel knows just how to work his way into the hearts of the family in his new guise.  But it isn’t long before he encounters his first crisis.  His by-the-books court liaison, Wanda Sellner (Charity Angel Dawson) approves of Mrs. Doubtfire as appropriate for the children.  But trying to play nanny and father come to a head when Wanda wants to talk with Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire at the same time.  

     These hijinks take place in Daniel’s apartment (sets by David Korins)  Mrs. Doubtfire and Wanda are in the kitchen and Mrs. Doubtfire says she’ll go in the bedroom to get Daniel, who she has said is her brother.  (Daniel’s lying had gotten away from him.)  From the bedroom, which the audience can see into but Wanda cannot, Daniel calls out in his voice that he’s just getting out of the shower but will be right in.  We watch him frantically pull off the clothes, bodysuit, face and wig, and casually walk into the kitchen in his robe.  

     This is fine until Wanda says she wants to talk to Mrs. Doubtfire again and Daniel has to pull off another switch, only in his haste he knocks the face and wig out of the window.  The artful Daniel comes up with a cleaver prop and then, quickly, another.  McClure is a marvel.

     Daniel has to play this double role again later at a restaurant, dining on one side of the room with the family as Mrs. Doubtfire and meeting with a TV producer as Daniel on the other side.  Only this time he’s not so lucky. 

     This is a musical comedy so I’m not giving anything away in saying that everything works out in the end.  The journey to that end is a joy.  This is the best movie conversion I have seen in a long time.  Gift wrap a couple of tickets for someone you love this Christmas.  It’s a sure fit for everyone.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Peace in the Morning: Images and Meditations to Begin Your Day

     Peace in the Morning: Images and Meditations to Begin Your Day by Daniel B. Ford Jr. is appropriately named because peaceful is how I feel when I sit with this small hardcover devotional, published by Paraclete Press.  Ford combines his photos from around the world, both majestic landscapes and everyday sights, with quotes from his pastor Hal M. Helms’ national bestseller Echoes of Eternity.        

     The book is divided into four sections: Consider, Pray, Look and Live.  I was drawn in starting with the first reflection, which is titled “Interruptions are also of me.”  I need this reminder frequently:  “Do not forget the parable of the priest and the Levite.  Never let your predetermined agenda keep you from seeing My hand in the interruption.  It is there, whether you recognize it or not.”  The simple accompanying photograph is what appears to be the corner of the first floor and basement of a red brick house with a bike leaning against it.  A window box brimming with jonquils rests between black shudders.  

     This was helpful to me as I went through my day because I tend to see email as an interruption and am always eager to get through it so I can get on to my real work, which is writing.  I want to remember that God’s hand might be in the message someone has sent me and can be in the messages I send as well.

     Another reflection, in just 10 words, reminds me of an equally necessary ingredient for my day, gratitude:  “My child, your thankfulness gladdens my heart and strengthens yours.”  The photo looks like a landscape in Tuscany.

     I love the gentleness of the messages as they are combined with the photos.  This thoughtfully put together book, 156 pages, can be combined with a more detailed devotional like the one I am using for Advent, with its assigned scripture readings and thoughtful commentary, or can be used alone by anyone with little time for morning prayer.  It would also be an excellent gift for someone who has never used a devotional in the morning and might be put off by needing to have a Bible at hand to look up scripture passages.  The snippets of wisdom and the beauty of the photos will sustain the ardent prayer warrior and those just beginning a daily prayer life.  And the book can be read again and again since it is not connected with any liturgical season.  You can finish it and then start again.  What a blessing to begin the morning with peace. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood


     Irving Berlin wrote more than 1,500 songs during his prolific career.  Two dozen of them are brought to life in Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood, the charming song and dance revue that opened last night, presented by The York Theatre Company at Theater at St. Jean’s.

     Four-time Tony Award-nominee Randy Skinner conceived, directed and choreographed the 80-minute show, which features six talented singer/dancers and, under the direction of David Hancock Turner, a five-piece onstage orchestra.  Together they transport the audience to an era of elegance and romance.  Barry Kleinbort’s book provides the cast just enough biographical information to introduce each number and keep the show moving at a good pace.

     The tap numbers are terrific, starting with the first, which features Kaitlyn Davidson, Joseph Medeiros, Melanie Moore (in photo), Phillip Attmore and Jeremy Benton (in photo) giving their all to “Let Yourself Go.”  

     I also loved the Fred and Ginger-style dances for their pure escapism.  Writing for the movies starring that pair had a big influence on Berlin as he made the transition to writing songs that were meant to be danced to as well as sung.  This is evident as Benton, Moore and the company (which also includes Victoria Byrd) glide and swirl around the stage for “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” from “White Christmas.”

     Costume designer Nicole Wee outfits the women in some lovely dresses and James Kantrowitz’s colorful lighting enhances the atmosphere.

    The York’s producing artistic director, James Morgan, wisely keeps the set simple.  Six panels, three on each side of the stage, project old-time movie spotlights alternated by posters of the movies being featured.   

     This show would be enjoyable anytime but the holiday season seems particularly appropriate for this kind of nostalgic singing and dancing.  Cheek to Cheek runs through Jan. 2.