Theatre Mirror Reviews - "MAME"

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Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone



”MAME”

Reviewed by Tony Annicone



Stoneham Theatre's winter musical this year is "Mame", originally titled "My Best Girl" is based on the 1955 fictional novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and a 1956 Broadway play that starred Rosalind Russell. The musical version opened on Broadway on May 24, 1966, ran for 1,508 performances and starred Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur who both won Tony Awards for their roles of Mame and Vera. This classic musical centers on the eccentric Mame Dennis, who lives a carefree life in 1920's New York until she unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her 10 year old nephew, Patrick. Rather than change her ways, Mame introduces Patrick to all the wonders of her wild Bohemian world while discovering the joy of having a family of her own. The show is set in NYC and goes from the Great Depression to World War II. Mame's famous motto to her nephew is "Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-a-bitch are starving to death." She instills this credo in her young charge and we meet all the colorful characters in her life including her "bosom buddy" Vera Charles, the baritone actress, her personal secretary and nanny-in-law, Agnes Gooch, the stuffy and officious executor of Patrick's estate, Dwight Babcock, the Southern aristocrat, Beauregard Burnside and the obnoxious empty-headed, Gloria Upson with a bigoted family to name a few. Even when Mame loses her fortune in 1929, tries her hand at various jobs with comically disastrous results, but perseveres with good humor and an irrepressible sense of style. Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins infuses her cast with exuberance and energy from start to finish and also supplies them with excellent choreography and dance styles which is breathtaking. Musical director Matt Stern taught the cast the difficult and intricate Jerry Herman score to this talented cast while playing lead keyboards and conducting a terrific seven piece orchestra. Their combined expertise propels the audience to their feet at the curtain as its reward.

Ilyse does an excellent job directing this show and creates many picture postcard moments along the way. She also creates crowd pleasing kick lines, cake walks, tangos, ballet, soft shoe and the Charleston to Jerry Herman's musical numbers. Matt conducts a 7 piece orchestra with outstanding trills from his keyboards in the touching ballads "My Best Girl" and "If He Walked into My Life" while the brass soars in "It's Today", "Open a New Window" and "Mame." The two story Art Deco set is by Katheryn Monthei while the multitude of gorgeous costumes are by Tyler Kinney. Leading this talented cast as Mame is Kathy St. George. She is stunning as the hard-drinking Manhattan socialite whose world is turned upside down when she is appointed guardian of her orphaned nephew, Patrick. Kathy commands the stage in a bravura performance, capturing Mame's live, live, live motto splendidly. She embodies this character beautifully with excellent comic timing and persuades those around her to live life to the fullest. Kathy's voice is heard in a multitude of songs including "It's Today" with her guests as she descends a staircase, "Open a New Window" with her nephew, Patrick while taking him on a tour of NYC eventually getting them arrested at a speakeasy, sings an obligato in the Moon song while balancing herself on a crescent moon, the tear jerking, poignant "My Best Girl" and her best number "If He Walked into My Life" which stops the show with her powerful rendition and poignancy. Kathy also leads the upbeat "We Need a Little Christmas" with Gooch, Tanner and little Patrick and the big dance number "That's How Young I Feel" which she dances the Jitterbug and Lindy with Junior Babcock and the teen crowd in Connecticut. Kathy once again stops the show in "Bosom Buddies" with Mame's best friend, the drunken lush, Vera. They do a terrific soft shoe dance to it with Vera leading the way. Brava on a job very well done!Forget the 1974 movie version because this one is the definitive version of this classic musical.

Mame's alcohol-pickled best friend is played excellently by Mary Callanan. Her acidic one liners are delivered perfectly and her first exit is when she falls down in a drunken stupor. Mary also plays the leading lady in the operetta "The Man in the Moon" which stops the show with hilarity. The girls sing in the background during her song while the girls and boys perform a comic ballet to one of the funniest numbers in the show. Mary is hilarious as this bitchy Tallulah Bankhead star of the past. One of her funniest lines is when she says the man in the moon is a bitch when Mame doesn't appear on the moon when she's supposed to. Mary also has some caustic one liners she hurls at the obnoxious Upsons in the second act. Agnes Gooch, Patrick's drab and decidedly repressed nanny is marvelously played by Ceit Zweil. Her glorious soprano voice soars in "St Bridget" which opens the show as she leads Patrick through the evilness of NYC and after getting advice from Mame and Vera being turned from a frump into a bombshell in "Bosom Buddies" then appears in a red dress while dancing in a vampy version of the number. After Gooch lives life to the fullest, returns pregnant to stay with Mame. Ceit does a show stopping "Gooch's Song" where her voice soars off the charts as she mesmerizes Mame and the whole audience with her stupendous voice. Tanner, the butler is well played by Robert Saoud . His constant funny walk as the butler is a hoot and his climbing up the stairs with a pregnant Gooch won sustained laughter.

The biggest scene stealer in this show is 10 year old Cameron Levesque who plays the irrepressible Patrick as a boy. I last reviewed him in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Shubert Theatre as Benji and he gave a brilliant performance in that show, too. He mixes a martini for Mr. Babcock with ease and recites the dirty words which he doesn't understand from his pad. Cameron also has a marvelous voice which he displays in "St. Bridget" with Ceit, "It's Today" and "Open a New Window" with Kathy. His most poignant and well done numbers occur in "My Best Girl" when he comforts Mame after she's fired from Vera's show and at the end of "Mame" when he runs to his aunt when he exclaims Mame is still his best girl which melts the hearts of the audience. His acting is as superb as his dancing ability which is seen in the tango segment and throughout Act 1. Cameron may be young but he has a very bright future in show business after this marvelous portrayal. Bravo! Older Patrick is well played by Matty Rickard whose baritone voice brings tears to the crowd's eyes with his two renditions of "My Best Girl." Patrick is naive about Gloria and her bigoted family but Mame sets him straight in her not too subtle way. Matty is the dance captain of the show and his dancing is superb. The Upson clan is headed by Will McGarrahan as the father, Margaret Ann Brady as the mother and Sarah Kawalek as the bubble-head, Gloria. They are very comical as these bigoted folks.

Will also portrays Beau perfectly. He is debonair and suave as Beau as he lends a gentile warmth as this Southern gentleman. He first appears as one of Mame's casualties in the beauty shop then brings Christmas cheer to Mame and her clan and finally brings her down South to propose to her in the show stopping closing number of Act 1, "Mame" with his powerful baritone voice. In this closing segment Will and the other smitten Aristocrats dance and sing up a storm which has the audience cheering in the aisles. Playing the bombastic Mr. Babcock is Sean McGuirk who puts Mame in her place several times during the show. However Babcock receives his comeuppance when she tricks with the Upsons in "It's Today" reprise. Other scene stealers include Serge Clivio as Gregor, the tres gay assistant in the beauty salon, Margaret Ann Brady as Mother Burnside who despises Mame and sings loudly for her to fall off her horse in the fox hunt song with Sean McGuirk as Uncle Jeff and Hannah Shihdanian as Cousin Fan. The bitchy Sally Cato is excellently played by Katie Ann Clark while the comical smoking Junior Babcock is played by Rhys Scheibe and Sarah Mass plays the sympathetic and level headed Pegeen whom Patrick finally marries. Cameron also appears as Peter and quotes Mame's motto which wins much laughter as the curtain closes. The dancing and singing prowess of this cast is astounding. So for a fabulous blockbuster rendition of this classical Jerry Herman musical, be sure to catch "Mame" at Stoneham Theatre before she cakewalks out of town. Run do not walk to the box office and tell them Tony sent you. This musical brought back many happy memories for me, having played Ralph Devine back in 1984.

MAME (25 November to 23 December)
Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA
1(781)279-7885 or www.stonehamtheatre.org




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