Rob McClure stars in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” a musical based on the movie starring Robin Williams. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Local actress and singer Jodi Kimura is accustomed to doing stage musicals, but she will soon take on a new challenge — her Broadway debut — in a new musical, “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Based on the 1993 movie starring Robin Williams, the show is about Daniel Hillard, a divorced dad and out-of-work actor who, after being denied custody and visitation rights, disguises himself as an elderly Scottish nanny in order to see his kids. The musical was written by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, the Tony-nominated team behind “Something Rotten!”

The show started out-of-town tryouts in 2019 in Seattle and was set to open on Broadway in 2020. The third preview had just been performed when COVID shut the world down.
Previews are now set to start Oct. 21 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The show opens on Dec. 5.

“Mrs. Doubtfire” is directed by Jerry Zaks (“Hello, Dolly!”) with choreography by Lorin Latarro (“Waitress”) and music supervision by Ethan Popp (“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”).

Jodi Kimura

Rob McClure plays the title role. He is joined by Jenn Gambatese as Miranda Hillard (Sally Field’s role in the movie), Peter Bartlett as Mr. Jolly, Charity Angél Dawson as Wanda Sellner, Mark Evans as Stuart Dunmire (Pierce Brosnan in the movie), J. Harrison Ghee as Andre Mayem, Analise Scarpaci as Lydia Hillard, Jake Ryan Flynn as Christopher Hillard, Avery Sell as Natalie Hillard, and Brad Oscar as Frank Hillard (Harvey Fierstein in the movie).

“I am playing the role of Janet Lundy,” Kimura explained. “In the movie, Jack Lundy was played by the late, great, Robert Prosky. But for the musical, the writers said, ‘Why can’t the head of the TV station be a woman?’ And in my case, a woman of color! Yes! But her gender and ethnicity are not the only differences.

“It’s a different character altogether. As affable as Jack was, Janet is emotionless. She’s dubbed the ‘ice queen’ and serves as one of the comedic foils for the hilarious Daniel Hillard (the genius Rob McClure). It’s a different kind of role than I’m used to so I am excited about the challenge.”

She added, “I LOVED the movie when it came out and loved anything Robin Williams did. But, also, the movie was made in 1993, almost 30 years ago. So one of the biggest challenges was how to bring this story to a modern audience, particularly given our collective growing awareness of gender/transgender issues and wanting to be respectful to all communities.

“I have been SO impressed and inspired by how hard they are all working — writers, creative team, and cast — on making the best possible storytelling choices they can. Fortunately, love and forgiveness are central themes of the story and with that as our collective focus, I know magic will happen. It already has. As it stands, the story is beautiful, current and pays homage to the film in all the best ways. And we’re not done. Changes will be made right up until opening night on Dec. 5!”

Kimura is no stranger to doing musicals based on movies, having played Vicki in “The Full Monty” and co-directed “Legally Blonde.” “Both are very successful musical adaptations for stage, doing what I think this show also does extremely well: pays homage to the films they are based on in all the best ways, but also has their own unique identity. Music, singing and dancing all have a magic unto themselves and just adding those elements to a story changes it in such a profound way.

“I think the trend of making musicals out of movies is sometimes just about easy marketing. But the best ones, this one included, take the movie and elevate it in a way that only great live musical theatre can.”

Before the pandemic struck, Kimura — whose credits also include playing Bloody Mary in “South Pacific” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts — played Rosie in “Mamma Mia” at Lake Dillon Theater in Colorado, then went directly to American Stage in Saint Petersburg, Fla. to do “Vietgone.”

“Then it was right back to L.A. to direct ‘Mamma Mia’ at Marina High School with my partner, Amber-Sky Skipps, in February of 2020,” she recalled. “I auditioned for ‘Mamma Mia’ at La Mirada on March 11 and the next day California shut down.

“With theatres closed and shows cancelled, there was little more to do than (thankfully) collect unemployment and do jigsaw puzzles while binge-watching TV like everyone else. During the year and a half, I was able to do a benefit concert in upstate New York, a reading of a new Disney show via Zoom, and I occasionally would do an acting gig helping train police officers. But that was about it …

“My mom had two knee replacement surgeries back to back, so I spent most of the summer on Maui helping her recover. And when I got back to L.A. a few weeks ago, auditions were slowly starting to roll in. Initially, my agent, Dustin Flores, had submitted me for ‘The Music Man’ directed by Jerry Zaks, casting by Craig Burns and Telsey + Company. They asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for a small role in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ instead. The only catch was if I booked it, rehearsals would start in two weeks. ‘Sure!’ I said. What did I have to lose?”

One advantage of COVID restrictions was that actors outside of New York could submit tapes instead of auditioning in person. “I submitted my self-tape on Wednesday. They called on Thursday to arrange a callback. I did a callback via Zoom with the director, Jerry Zaks, Craig Burns and the writers on Friday. And an hour later, I got the call from my agent saying the three magic words every actor loves to hear: ‘You booked it.’

“And then came the words that I never thought I’d hear that would upend my life: ‘Congratulations! You’re going to Broadway!’

“I had ten days to pack and find a place in NYC before rehearsals started. And thanks to my amazing network of friends in NYC, I found a couple of sublets that will take me through the end of the year.”

The actress who originally played Janet Lundy, Doreen Montalvo Mann, unexpectedly passed away due to a massive stroke during the pandemic. Despite the circumstances, Kimura was “blown away” by the kindness and generosity of the cast.

“So while this cast is delighted to be back together and excited to finally open, it comes with the bittersweetness of mourning the loss of one and the welcoming of another,” Kimura noted. “I told the cast on the first day that I feel like the recipient of a donor heart — it’s because of the loss of someone so beloved that I am being given this opportunity. And while I do feel a bit of survivor’s guilt being here, I also feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.

“I can never fill the hole Doreen left, but I can commit to doing my absolute best to serve the story and hopefully be a part of the healing of this company as they move forward. Given all that happened and how it happened, I can’t help but feel this was orchestrated by God and the universe itself. A few people who knew Doreen have told me they would not be surprised if she had a hand in picking me herself. I believe it. I feel upheld by her on a daily basis …

“Another ‘meant to be’ moment for me was meeting the illustrious Kevin McCollum, our producer, and finding out he is also from Hawaii! It immediately felt like family. And then there is Jerry Zaks, who is not only one of the most accomplished and acclaimed of Broadway directors, he is also extraordinarily kind. So is every creative, assistant and intern I’ve encountered so far.

“I could not have picked a better Broadway debut than this. This is a very special company telling a very special story at a very special time and I have NO DOUBT audiences will love it!”

In the past, Kimura has tried to see as many Broadway shows as possible whenever she visited New York. “But now that I’m living here, ironically, I won’t be able to see as many shows as I’d like since we’ll have the same schedule. But it’s a first-world problem that I’m lucky to have, and I’ll see as many shows as I can!”

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