Alex Ringler recalled getting a touch of motivation from one of his ballet teachers at University of the Arts.
“I was from Tempe, Ariz. — 2000 miles away from Philadelphia — in a completely different climate. And I was feeling a little like, “Oh, I don’t know about all this. And she said, ‘You’re here. Might as well get to work.’ And she gave me the kick in the pants.”
Ringler said that mentality stuck with him as he embarked on his own journey through the arts and content creation through his production company, Jumpideedoo Productions, which spawned his popular web series “Annoyingly Fit Neighbor.” He even booked several stage roles, including “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” “A Chorus Line,” “West Side Story,” and — most recently — an ensemble role in the national tour of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” which will play Feb. 6-18 at the Academy of Music as part of Ensemble Arts Philly’s 23/24 Broadway Series. PGN spoke to Ringler about his work as a content creator, returning to Philadelphia, and the love — and critiques — for “Mrs. Doubtfire” from the LGBTQ+ community.
Let’s talk about some of your other projects. I understand you create online content through Jumpideedoo Productions.
I’m about to start submitting this new series [to festivals] called “Seeking,” starring Jackie Cox and Darius Rose, under that banner. I like to say “Seeking” is “Broad City” meets “Will & Grace” with a little bit of “Kimmy Schmidt” thrown in there. It’s about these roommates who kind of have to live together and figure out a life together, even though they’re from different backgrounds. Two of them are gay. One of them is straight, and when the straight guy breaks up with his girlfriend in the first episode, they kind of have to figure out how they’re going to make this life work together. It’s a light-hearted kind of sitcom, roommate comedy. I raised some money [for the project] through Fractured Atlas. I thank everyone who donated to that, because we raised — I think — just enough or a little more than enough to get our series shot. And we did it in May this past year. And we’re about to start submitting. I’m very excited about that.
How does it feel to return to, essentially, your home turf for “Mrs. Doubtfire”?
Oh my gosh. I love going back to Philly. I remember the neighborhood and being around 12th Street and Center City, especially coming out around then too. It was just so nice to be in such a welcoming and accepting environment. I love going back to the old haunts, even though they’ve changed a little bit and some of them aren’t there anymore. [I also love] all the touristy stuff, but I also just love walking around the city. I love going to Rittenhouse Square and just sitting and reading. I always love coming back to Philly.
What was your relationship with “Mrs. Doubtfire” — both the Broadway show and the 1993 film it was adapted from — before you joined the show?
The film? Oh my gosh, I grew up on it. I have always loved Robin Williams. Me and my sisters would rent it from Blockbuster — when that was a thing — over and over again. It was probably one of our staple go-to movies. As for the Broadway show, I did audition for it and got pretty close. They kind of knew who I was and brought me back and then this time, it stuck. I’m an ensemble member so I do all of the dancing, and then I also understudy the Stu Dunmeyer role. So for those who have seen the movie, that’s the Pierce Brosnan role — the love interest of the ex wife.
When “Mrs. Doubtfire” originally opened on Broadway, there was initially some criticism against it for being disrespectful to the LGBTQ+ community and that feedback was eventually incorporated into the show. What would you say to members of the community who may be on the fence about seeing the show?
It got a lot of flack for being like, “Oh, here’s another show of everybody laughing at a man in a dress.” And while that may have worked in 1993, that doesn’t really read anymore. And that trope isn’t funny and sort of offensive.
When we first started rehearsals, Rob [McClure, another Philly native, who portrays the titular character] gave a talk to us about this. The writers actively included people from the trans community who would come in and look at the script, and would see things that the other writers maybe didn’t see or thought were offensive. Seeing through a lens that isn’t their own [helped the writers] find a different way to get [certain points] across.
Even since Broadway, there have been rewrites. They rewrote things for the West End, and then they rewrote things for our show as well. And they’ve really tried to take those issues to heart, and make it an updated version that isn’t just laughing at the fact of a man being in a dress. It is more specifically about this man who loves his kids so much and just tries to be a part of their lives.
So I would say if you’re on the fence of coming to see it, give it a chance, because I feel like a lot of people who had criticism for the show maybe didn’t go and see it or they were more upset about the idea of it than about the reality of it. Come and experience it and then make your decision afterwards.
What does it mean for you, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, to be a part of the show?
I think it comes down to the final speech that Mrs. Doubtfire — or the character, Daniel, or Rob — gets right at the end. It’s similar to the final speech in the movie. This girl writes in to Mrs. Doubtfire and says, “My mom and dad are separating? Does that mean we’re not a real family anymore?” And he goes on to speak about how there are all sorts of families. Some have one mommy. Some have one daddy. Some have two daddies or two mommies. Some live with their grandparents or foster parents or aunts and uncles. That, to me, is the essence of the show and the essence of the movie as well. It was one of the first movies where the parents are separating in the beginning and then the kids didn’t “Parent Trap” them back into getting together at the end. They stayed separated, because that’s what was right for them in that family. And even now, in our production, there’s a gay couple that’s trying to adopt a baby. That’s what I like about the show. It’s showing that there are all sorts of families and no one is more right than the other, as long as there’s love involved. As a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I think that’s what speaks to me the most.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” will play as part of Ensemble Arts Philly’s 23/24 Broadway Series for a two-week engagement Feb. 6-18 at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit ensembleartsphilly.org.