Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Mame"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Mame"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Reagle Players' 41st season 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 Broadway production of this show opened on May 24, 1966, ran 1,508 performances and starred Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur who both won Tony Awards for their roles Set in New York and spanning the Great Depression and World War II, it focuses on eccentric bohemian, Mame Dennis, whose famous motto is "Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death." Her fabulous life with her wealthy friends is interrupted when the young son of her late brother arrives to live with her. Her madcap life is disrupted when her ten year old nephew arrives. Rather than bow to convention, Mame introduces him to life, instilling in him her favorite credo. Also figuring in the story line are Mame's personal secretary and nanny-in-law, Agnes Gooch, her "bosom buddy" Vera Charles, the baritone actress and the world's greatest lush, Dwight Babcock, the stuffy and officious executor of Patrick's father's estate. Mame loses her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and tries her hand at a variety of jobs, with comically disastrous results, but perseveres with good humor and an irrepressible sense of style. Mame eventually meets and marries Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a Southern aristocrat with a Georgia plantation called Peckerwood. The trustee of Mame's late brother force Mame to send Patrick off to boarding school while she and Beau travel the world on an endless honeymoon that ends when Beau falls off an Alp. Mame returns home a wealthy widow to discover Patrick has become a priggish snob engaged to an empty-headed debutante, Gloria Upson, from a bigoted family. Mame brings Patrick to his senses just in time to introduce him to the girl who will become his wife. Director Frank Roberts infuses his cast with exuberance and energy from start to finish with topnotch musical direction from Dan Rodriguez and Jeff Leonard while the choreography and different dance styles by Susan Chebookjian is breathtaking. The audience propels themselves to their feet to give the hard working 45 member cast a standing ovation as its reward.

Frank does an excellent job with his direction of this show and creates beautiful picture post card moments throughout recreating Gene Saks original staging. The flapper costumes and the 1930's costumes are by Costume World Theatrical. Susan recreates the choreography of Onna White complete with crowd pleasing kick lines, cake walks, tangos, ballet, soft shoe and Charlestons to Jerry Herman's insistent toe-tapper songs. Jeff Leonard conducts the 15 piece orchestra with outstanding trills from the harpist in the touching ballads, "My Best Girl" and "If He Walked into My Life" while the brass soars on the title number, "It's Today", "Open a New Window. (An added treat in the orchestra is a banjo player.) The set is by David Allen Jeffrey complete with a spiral stairway for Mame to enter from with her bugle while the multitude of lovely costumes are by Costume World especially impressive are Mame's gold lame pantsuit for her opening number and the other lovely outfits she wears thru the show. Hard working stage manager,Karen Parlato keeps things running smoothly all night long with her assistant stage manager, Paul Reynolds and his crew flying the scenery in and out as well as moving set pieces on and off.

Lee Meriwether is stunning as the hard-drinking Manhattan socialite, Mame whose world is turned upside down when she is appointed guardian of her orphaned nephew. Patrick. (Even at 74 years old, she is very energetic in this role and is still a statuesque red head who worked a 7 day week to learn this enormous role.) She commands the stage in a bravura performance,capturing Mame's "live, live, live motto splendidly. Lee possesses the charm, wit and poise to make her version of Mame like one who lives life to the fullest and persuasively encourages everyone around her to do the same. She delivers a comic line or a deadpan look with ease. Her singing voice is heard in a multitude of songs. She sings "It's Today" with her home full of guests while descending a long spiral stairway, "Open A New Window" with her nephew Patrick,(while taking him on a tour of New York with them all getting arrested at the speakeasy), she sings an obligato in the Moon song while balancing herself on a crescent moon, the tear jerking "My Best Beau" and her best number "If He Walked Into My Life" which stops the show with her powerful rendition and its poignancy. Lee also leads the upbeat "We Need a Little Christmas" with Gooch, Ito and young Patrickand the big dance number "That's How Young I Feel" which she does with Junior Babcock and the teen crowd in Connecticut. She does "Bosom Buddies" with Vera, her alcohol-pickled best friend played by Maryann Zschau (a 3 time IRNE Award winner who played Mrs. Meers in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Reagle) in a triumphant return to Reagle Players. They do a soft shoe routine during this song with Vera leading the way. Her first exit is as she is carried offstage by the chorus boys when she collapses in a drunken stupor. She also plays the leading lady in the operetta "The Man in the Moon" in Act 1 with the chorus girls in the background while she is dressed as a lady astronomer and the boys and girls do a wonderful ballet in one of the funniest songs in the show.. Maryann is hilarious as this bitchy Tallulah Bankhead star of the past and 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 is supposed to and she throws her telescope at Jeff Leonard in the orchestra pit invoking many laughs. She also has some excellent zingers when she insults the obnoxious Upsons in the second act. Agnes Gooch, Patrick's drab and decidedly repressed nanny is played by Maureen Brennan (a Tony nominee for Broadway's "Candide" and who I reviewed as the fairy godmother in "Cinderella" at NSMT in 2006) who's glorious soprano voice soars in "St. Bridget" which opens the show as she is terrified to bring Patrick to the evil city of New York and afterwards appears in a red dress while descending the stairway dancing in a vampy version of "Bosom Buddies" with Lee and Maryann. Agnes takes Mame's advice on living life to its fullest to a fault by letting her hair down along with her guard and Maureen does a show stopping song where after Mame and Vera transform her from a frump into a bombshell, she appears at the door pregnant and sings "Gooch's Song" with her voice soaring off the charts. Ito, the butler is played by Kai Cho who also appeared with Maryann in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" which Frank also directed. His constantly laughing butler is a hoot and his running in and out of various scenes are well done, too.

The biggest scene stealer in this show is 10 year old Troy Costa who plays the young, impressionable Patrick as a boy. He mixes a martini for Mr. Babcock with ease and recites the dirty words he has written on a pad because he doesn't understand them. Troy has a fantastic voice which he shows off in "St. Bridget" with Maureen, "It's Today" and "Open a New Window with Lee and the very poignant "My Best Girl" at the theatre after Mame is fired from her job as the Moon Lady and when he runs to Mame after the title number declaring that she still is my best girl, your hearts will melt. His acting is superb as is his is dancing ability in the tango segment and throughout Act 1. Troy may be young but he has a very bright future in show business after this marvelous portrayal. Bravo! Older Patrick is played by Curly Glynn( who is a onetime Boston actor and BC alumnus) whose excellent baritone voice brings tears to the crowd's eyes with his two renditions of "My Best Girl".Patrick is naive about Gloria but Mame sets him straight in her own not very subtle way. Curly does a wonderful job with this character. The obnoxious Upson family is played by Jerry Walker, a 32 year veteran actor of Reagle shows, Linda Lodi plays his wife and Thayer Surette is the bubble headed, Gloria. A very debonair R. Glen Michell plays Beauregard perfectly and he lends a gentile warmth as this Southern gentleman from his time onstage as one of Mame's casualties in the beauty salon to bringing Mame and her family a little Christmas and finally he sings the title song "Mame" with his fantastic baritone voice. In the famous first-act curtain finale, Mame is serenaded by a chorus of smitten Southern aristocrats and with his powerful voice leading them stops the show with the audience cheering at it's intensity. Stan Alger plays Mame's publicist M. Lindsay Woolsey. Playing the bombastic Dwight Babcock is Rick Sherburne who puts Mame in her place but he finally gets his comeuppance when she tricks him during the "It's Today" reprise scene. Other scene stealers include Jim Kopycinski as Gregor, the tres gay assistant in the beauty shop scene and Jane Corrigan clad in widow's attire as Mother Burnside who despises Mame and sings loudly during the Fox Hunt Georgia sequence for her to fall off her horse with Chris King as Uncle Jeff and Lenni Kmiec as Cousin Fan. (He was in Joseph last season while she was in "No No Nanette".) The bitchy Sally Cato is played by Aurelie Alger while the comical smoking wise ass, Junior Babcock is played by Mark Linehan with a cigarette in his mouth. The cute Peter Dennis who appears at the end of the show, quoting Mame's motto out loud is Jeff Sewell. The dancing chorus for this show is outstanding and is lead by Rachel Bertone as are the fantastic singing prowess of the cast, too. So for a fabulous rendition of this Jerry Herman blockbuster musical, be sure to catch "Mame" at Reagle Players before she cakewalks out of town.

"Mame" (16 - 27 July)
REAGLE PLAYERS
617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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