Interview: Brad Oscar's Journey Back to Mrs. Doubtfire, 18 Months Later
Oscar was onstage when Covid shut everything down, and now the production has resumed previews.
Brad Oscar has been a working actor in New York City for 30 years — and a recognizable Broadway scene-stealer for just as long. When Covid struck, the Tony nominee was in previews for Mrs. Doubtfire (where he plays Frank Hillard, brother of Rob McClure's Daniel/Mrs. D) — and for 18 long months, Oscar saw the industry he loves so dearly completely decimated.
Now, though, Oscar is back onstage, and Mrs. Doubtfire is back in previews at the Sondheim Theatre, on track for a December opening. Here, he looks back on the last year, and tells us about all that has followed.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
OK, you've officially run longer now than you did in March 2020. How does it feel to be back?
[Laughs] Yes, we broke our record of three previews, so on the night of our fourth preview, we had cupcakes to celebrate. It feels good to be back. You know, we're sort of existing in two worlds. We're back doing exactly what we did before, but with this whole new layer of protocols and all the other things we're doing to ensure a safe work environment. We've been trepidatious moving forward, but so far, knock wood, everything's great, and everyone is doing their part.
Had the show been living in your bones over the past 18 months, or did you really have to study to get it back?
Everybody picked back up remarkably. My track is what it is as far as the amount of material I have to master, so it was mostly there because we had done Seattle, and then we had more rehearsals and gone into previews. We had done it enough that you start to develop muscle memory, which is what I think every actor prays for, even if they don't know it — when you are just doing the show and you're living it and breathing it and you're not in your head as much.
Of course, the first couple of days were weird. They were weird for so many reasons — for 18 months, 19 months, this family had disbanded, we lost the joy of what we do, our very livelihoods…There was just a lot of emotional baggage to unpack, and not in a bad way. We spent the first couple of days getting back into the room and discussing everything that we had learned and discovering the people that we had become, because let's face it, none of us are the same people we were 18 months ago. Everyone went through a major change.
Has the show changed based on that? Or based on the writers continuing to develop the material over the last year?
The piece, I believe, is significantly better than it would have been 18 months ago. Our authors had time to let it marinate and addressed certain places in the show that we were looking at in previews. We would have never been able to do that work in, really, three or four weeks. And then, we're all bringing to the table…This is a show about family, about connection, some very basic, wonderful things that a lot of us were deprived of over the last 18 months.
You were in The Producers when 9/11 happened, and now you're in Mrs. Doubtfire amid the pandemic. Are the experiences similar, or is it completely, totally different?
Not really. 9/11 was such an intense window of time. It happened and we were able to almost immediately do the exact thing we could not do during Covid, which was gather together and help each other get through it, whatever that meant. And then, two nights later, we were able to get back to work and try to provide this balm. We literally missed two days of performances after 9/11.
Covid just cut everything down, so the joy of getting back in front of that audience a few weeks ago was much different than the trepidation of getting in front of that audience on September 13. And I'm sure the audience was like, "What are we doing here?" We all were processing and grieving, but, certainly during our invited dress rehearsal, our first preview, and most performances so far, the audiences have been loving and so happy to be back at the theater and seeing a wonderful new American musical comedy…You know, the greatest words in the English language.
Did you cry the first night back?
Oh yeah. I cried at various points along the way, because of the reality of having your soul taken away from you for that long. I've been blessed to do this profession, to make a living in this fantastic city, for over 30 years, and then to have that taken away makes you question your identity. You yearn for it so bad. So now to return to it, I'm so grateful. I still always pinch myself as I'm walking to work. I pass the St. James every night on my way to the Sondheim, and I've had such good luck there. This neighborhood is like a fantasy land for me. So I get very emotional in that respect.
OK, one last question: Sometimes I see the title written as Doubtfire, other times it's written as Mrs. Doubtfire, and I'm determined to get to the bottom of this. What do you know, Brad Oscar?
[Laughs] It's The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Drood! Which is funny, because that also went from M to D. I do not have a definite answer for you other than to say that we live in an age of branding, and I think part of it how they're choosing to market it. The name is so recognizable. But no, I don't have a solid answer for you on that. So that shall be our Mystery of Euphegenia Doubtfire.