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Bursting with local flavor, “Mrs. Doubtfire” hits the spot

Sept. 14, 2022 - 20:09 By Park Ga-young
Jung Sung-hwa and cast of “Mrs. Doubtfire” (Sem Company)
The previews of the musical adaptation of “Mrs. Doubtfire” opened on Broadway at an unfortunate time -- on March 9, 2020 -- right as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New York.

Like most theaters and productions around the world, it only ran three performances before going on an uncertain hiatus.

The previews returned in October last year, but had to close again in January. In May, the show was closed again, just one month after reopening, due to the spread of the omicron vibrant.

Opening outside the US for the first time, three days ahead of the UK edition, the Korean version, with a heavy dose of local flavor, hits the laugh button, an indication of a promising run.

And as the plot is familiar to Korean audiences thanks to the 1993 movie featuring beloved comedic star Robin Williams, many generations are flocking to the theater for a dose of humor and nostalgia. According to the Korean Film Council, the film was one of the top 10 movies in terms of the number of tickets sold in 1994 in Seoul.

The story unfolds around Daniel Hillard, a struggling, out-of-work voice actor, who is also a devoted father. After losing custody of his children in a messy divorce, he creates the alter ego of Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire in a desperate attempt to stay close to the children.

Three actors who take the role of Daniel Hillard. (From left)Comedian-turned-actor Jung Sung-hwa, versatile singer Im Chang-jung and musical actor Yang Joon-mo. (Sem Company)

The Korean version is a non-replica, with a great deal of leeway given to the local production team. And the result, even with the background set in San Francisco, is that the story of a divorced father hoping to reunite with his children resonates with Korean audiences with the addition of a very local sense of humor.

Local references included a hint at singer Lee Hyo-ri, hit TV drama “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” chef Paik Jong-won, Oscar-winning actress Youn Yuh-jung, and a famous line from an ad of an English academy.

Its also entertaining to see how the name “Doubtfire” is improvised in a very Korean way.

Another highlight of the show is how swiftly Daniel switches between himself and his alter ego, Doubtfire, 18 different times onstage.

The Korean production features three actors who take on the role of Daniel -- versatile singer Im Chang-jung, comedian-turned-actor Jung Sung-hwa and musical actor Yang Joon-mo, who each has a dedicated and diverse fan base. Daniel’s wife Miranda is played by two seasoned musical actresses -- Shin Young-sook and Park Hye-na.

The original music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, (the Tony Award-nominated team behind “Something Rotten!” along with O’Farrell) offer several memorable numbers, including “Make Me a Woman“ and ”The Shape of Things to Come,” which make for a very upbeat atmosphere.

The original musical version was based on a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and it was directed by four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks.

Im Chang-jung, Shin Young-sook and cast of "Mrs. Doubtfire" (Sem Company)

The local edition was co-produced by relatively new production companies -- Sem Company and Studio Sunday -- joined by Kim Mun-jung, one of the highest-profile music directors in Korea.

It seems the musical appeals to wider audiences in South Korea. Unlike musicals that are currently taking the stage by storm with audiences who are primarily in their 20s, “Mrs. Doubtfire” is drawing more seasoned audiences who are in their 30s (34 percent) and 40s (27 percent),” according to data by ticket platform Interpark.

The family-oriented musical will run through Nov. 6, every day except Mondays, at Chalotte Theater in Jamsil, Seoul.