At its heart, Mrs. Doubtfire is a story about a father and the lengths he goes to be close to his children. It is an inspiring story of family and love that will make you laugh and leave you singing and dancing as you exit the Theatre. We asked writers Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and John O’Farrell about their process, and the joys and challenges of adapting a beloved novel and movie into a musical.
Why did you want to adapt Mrs. Doubtfire, a beloved novel and movie, into a musical?
We felt that it was a universal story that had enormous heart and high stakes that would work well in a musical comedy. There are definitely strong emotions that warrant singing about. Plus there is great potential for comedy and stage farce that would be even more thrilling to see live on stage!
How do you approach writing an adaptation?
The first questions we asked ourselves were ‘how do we make this a genuine theatrical experience as opposed to a film just transferred to the stage?’ Then we thought about the significant moments in the story that would lend themselves to big set pieces. We wanted to ensure that Miranda got her say in the story, because the musical genre gives us the opportunity to stop and listen to her sing about her point of view. We had to think about jokes that worked in 1993 but which might feel a little off-target today. And underneath all of this, we had to keep asking ourselves, ‘what is this story about? What is the underlying value, what is the controlling idea?’
What challenges did you face in adapting the movie/novel?
There were some scenes from the movie that wouldn’t transfer well to the stage—such as the occasion when Stewart, Miranda and the kids go with Mrs. Doubtfire to the swimming pool. But one line from that scene gave us the idea for a whole comic sequence at the top of Act Two of the musical. Then there are moments that you want fans of the film to enjoy in the theater as well. Mrs. Doubtfire dancing with her vacuum cleaner or putting her face in a pie for example. We felt a duty to identify and include as many of those moments from the movie as we could. The physical challenges of getting our lead actor in and out of his Doubtfire costume means that we had to think about moments where something else was keeping the audience’s attention for at least 25 seconds. There are other challenges of course that apply to all musical comedies; varying the type of songs, thinking about who is singing and when, making sure we keep tracking all our characters over the arc of the story, and keeping the engine of the story racing along. Luckily we have the support and advice of brilliant and experienced musical theater legends like our director Jerry Zaks or our producer Kevin McCollum who both have an instinctive feel for how a musical works.
What was your favorite aspect of adapting the movie and novel?
It was when we started to work with our brilliant cast and seeing how they took things to another level. We would write a joke that we were not sure about – but then we would see Rob McClure deliver it and suddenly it felt ten times as funny! The whole collaborative nature of doing a musical is so enjoyable for writers like us who spend a lot of time on our own. And as we see the pieces starting to be put together, we begin to experience it like an ordinary theatre goer, laughing at an actor or being moved by a song. We all feel so lucky to have a job where we love what we are doing and we get to do it every day!
Why do you think this is an important story to tell?
Today our society is redefining what it means to be ‘a family’. Mom, dad and a couple of kids is only one shape and that there are many others that are equally valid. The message that children of divorced parents are not to blame for what went wrong is a very strong one, and needs restating to every generation. Mrs. Doubtfire is a character brimming with love and we need a few more people like that around today!
What do you hope the audience walks away feeling?
We hope the audience go away feeling entertained, moved and not too distracted by those three writers standing at the back looking anxious! We want people to invest emotionally in this family for a couple of hours, to go on a journey with Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire and then go home and tell all their friends to come and see our funny and moving show!
MEET THE WRITERS
Karey Kirkpatrick (book, music, and lyrics)is a writer, director and composer. His screenplay credits include Charlotte’s Web, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, James and the Giant Peach, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Chicken Run, and Over the Hedge which he also co-directed. He directed the film Imagine That starring Eddie Murphy and directed and co-wrote the Warner Brother’s animated musical, Smallfoot for which he also co-wrote all of the songs with his brother Wayne. Along with Wayne and book writer John O’Farrell, Karey co-wrote book, music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Something Rotten! which recently completed its 2nd national tour. The team is currently working on their next musical, Mrs. Doubtfire which opens at the 5th Avenue theater Seattle in November and on Broadway in Spring of 2020.
Wayne Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics)is a Grammy® award winning songwriter for “Change the World” by Eric Clapton. (Song of the Year) Top 10 singles include “Every Heartbeat”; “Good For Me”; (Amy Grant), “Wrapped Up In You” (Garth Brooks); “Place In This World” (Michael W. Smith); “Boondocks”, “Bring It On Home”, “Little White Church” (Little Big Town). He’s a multi-formatted songwriter with songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Faith Hill, Joe Cocker, Gabe Dixon, Trisha Yearwood, Babyface, and Peter Frampton, among others. TV shows: Grey’s Anatomy; True Blood; Nashville. Feature Films: Almost Famous; Phenomenon; Smallfoot. Broadway: Something Rotten! (music and lyrics). Kirkpatrick lives in Nashville with his wife, Fran, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. Favorite productions: Kourtney, Shelby, and Carson.
John O’Farrell (book) is one of the UK’s best known comic authors and scriptwriters. Novels include The Best a Man Can Get, May Contain Nuts, and The Man Who Forgot His Wife (which he is currently adapting for Sony International Pictures). Non-fiction includes An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, the political memoir Things Can Only Get Better, and its recent sequel, plus three collections of his satirical columns for The Guardian newspaper. O’Farrell’s books have been translated into 30 languages and adapted for BBC Radio and television. Previously a writer (and later panelist) on BBC’s Have I Got News For You, and a lead writer on ten series of ITV’s Spitting Image. Winner; British Comedy Award. Co-host of the comedy history podcast We Are History. O’Farrell co-wrote the book for Broadway’s Something Rotten! which earned him a Tony nomination.
To purchase your tickets to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s world premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire (November 26 – December 29), please visit our website or call us at 206.625.1900.