Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review of Goodspeed Opera House's "Mame"

One day the Goodspeed Opera House will produce a musical starring Kirsten Wyatt instead of just employing her considerable comedic talents as a featured actress.  She was one of the bright spots from last year’s My One and Only and her performance as Agnes Gooch in the season opener, Jerry Herman’s Mame, is one of the show’s highlights.

Mame is one of the legendary characters in the musical theater canon.  Angela Lansbury starred in the 1966 Broadway original and her portrayal of the free-spirited, liberated Mame Dennis set the bar for other actresses to come.  The Goodspeed production, which plays through July 7th, features Louise Pitre, a Tony Award nominee for Mamma Mia, as the feisty, unorthodox jet-setter.  She looks fabulous in the numerous costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, but her performance lacks the necessary zip and liveliness.  In fact, the whole production is missing a certain bounce and effervescence.
"It's Today!"  Louise Pitre and the cast of Mame.

The book of the show is based on the popular novel, Auntie Mame, and the subsequent play of the same name by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.  Lawrence and Lee adapted their play into the musical Mame which tells the story of young Patrick Dennis and his nanny, Agnes Gooch, who travel to New York City to live with Patrick’s Auntie Mame now that his father has died.  Mame takes an immediate liking to the lad and introduces him to her bohemian ways and eccentric friends, which includes actress and lush, Vera Charles.  Their adventures from pre-Depression wealth through the Stock Market Crash and back to the monied life (thanks to the unfortunate death of Mame’s newly minted rich husband) are riddled with high-flying exploits and silly escapades. 

Patrick grows older and falls in love with a snobbish and pretentious girl, in reaction to both his unusual upbringing and need to have a more normal, regimented life.  Mame, of course, sets him straight in the nick of time and he ends up marrying a more sensible, down-to-earth woman.  As the curtain falls, Mame is conniving to take the young couple’s son on an adventure to India.

My main problem with the show was the aforementioned absence of pacing and vitality of the production.  Director Ray Roderick should have done more to kickstart the musical to overcome the languidness of some scenes and episodic nature of the show.  Choreographer Vince Pesce adds some nice flourishes but, unlike most Goodspeed musicals, the dance numbers seem a tad forced and not as integrated into the entire production.

Kirsten Wyatt's character Agnes Gooch learns to "Live Live LIVE!" from her tutors Vera Charles (Judy Blazer) and Mame Dennis (Louise Pitre).
In addition to Louise Pitre, as Mame, Judy Blazer plays best friend, Vera Charles.  Blazer, a seasoned Broadway veteran, who also looks spectacular in her outfits, seems to relish her role.  But as one who is almost always without a drink in hand when on stage she is a bit too controlled.  Instead of the life of the party, she is just a guest.  Charles Hagerty, as the older Patrick, has boyish good looks and a fine voice.  Eli Baker, as young Patrick, can act, sing, and keep in line with the rest of the more mature cast.  A slightly disconcerting aspect of the show is the cast’s lack of aging.  The timeframe of Mame is between 1928 thru 1946, but most of the central characters, besides the older Patrick, do not seem to get older at all.  It was a curious dynamic.

The strength of Mame is the outstanding Jerry Herman score, probably his best.  There are so many marvelous numbers including “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Mame,” and “Bosom Buddies.”  I could quibble with the pacing of “Bosom Buddies,” one of the all-time duets in Broadway history, but that’s more because I play the song often on my radio show and how can you compare any version to the two originals--Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur?

Mame, a respectable staging at the Goodspeed Opera House thru July 7th.

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