Friday, January 10, 2020

‘Mame’ by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee and Jerry Herman

10 January 2020

I’ve only ever played in the band for a handful of stage musicals. It’s an odd experience being part of the orchestra in the pit: by the end of the run you know the show off-by-heart (both the music and most of the dialogue!) but, having never actually seen what is happening on the stage, my grasp of the plot of most of the musicals I have played in remains rather vague. One of my rare appearances in the orchestra pit was for a production of ‘Mame’ by the excellent amateur Westwood Musical Society at the Key Theatre in Peterborough in 1992. This production was particularly memorable as the actor playing Auntie Mame fell on stage during the second performance and broke her leg. That evening’s performance was abandoned but, after some hasty adjustments to the script, our star returned the following night – with leg in plaster – to complete the run. The Peterborough Evening Telegraph headline for these dramatic events was, somewhat inevitably, ‘Mamed!’. So it was great, nearly 30 years later, to finally get the chance to see ‘Mame’ at the Royal Theatre in Northampton on Thursday in a new production from Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. ‘Mame’ has a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play ‘Auntie Mame’ by Lawrence and Lee. It’s set in Jazz Age New York, with the flimsiest of plots (and some dated sexual politics) providing an excuse for a joyous feel-good dance musical. This is the first professional staging of ‘Mame’ in the UK since the original 1969 West End production, which starred Ginger Rogers. Director and Choreographer Nick Winston has ingeniously compressed the action for the tiny Hope Mill Theatre, squeezing a cast of 18 onto a small stage without losing any of the big dance numbers. The music was arranged by Jason Carr who did the amazing four-piano arrangement of ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ for the Young Vic production starring Jane Horrocks (reviewed here in December 2009). Tracie Bennett (who we last saw singing ‘I’m Still Here’ in the National Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Follies’, reviewed here in November 2017) is wonderful as Mame. Her singing is impressive but her dancing is really outstanding – as is that of the whole cast. ‘Mame’ is a dancers’ musical and the Hope Mill Theatre production boasts a stunning ensemble of dancers. Harriet Thorpe almost steals the show as Mame’s wise-cracking, permanently inebriated, best friend, Vera. And Lochlan White is amazing as the young Patrick (one of three boys alternating the role). But ‘Mame’ is Tracie Bennett’s show and it is hard now to imagine anyone else in the role. It’s a brilliant production that left me beaming. You can get a flavour of the show from this trailer:

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