“Mame” -- Goodspeed Musicals

--Irene Backalenick

Jerry Herman is right up there, high among the firmament of American composers (and lyricists). Somewhere in the world there is surely a production of “Hello, Dolly!” or “La Cage aux Folles” or “Mame.” To offer a cliche, the sun never sets on a Jerry Herman show.

 

Thus it is appropriate for Goodspeed Musicals to be offering its version of  “Mame,” though the noted musical, this time around, has its strengths and its weaknesses. On the plus side are the jazzy stage sets and costumes, which glorify the Art Deco era and later decades. And of course there are the memorable Herman tunes -- among them, “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” and the title song. While performers are a mixed bag, the Jerry Herman touch carries the day.

 

What is “Mame” all about? Originally a novel by Patrick Dennis, it relates the experience of a young orphaned boy who comes to live with his flamboyant Auntie Mame. She, with enough money to indulge her credo, is the very essence of the Jazz Age. “Life is a banquet,” she intones, “...so live, live, live!” She offers Patrick freedom, a new awareness of the world, and unlimited love. Who could ask for anything more?

 

This particular production offers a cartoon-y version of the classic. More subtlety would have added depth and poignancy to the piece. Instead, every one works too hard, going over the top in all roles...except perhaps Mame herself, portrayed by Louise Pitre. Although Pitre has a fine husky musical comedy voice, she gives only a serviceable rendition of the role, haunted by such predecessors as Angela Lansbury and Rosalind Russell. She just does not have the larger-than-life persona of such earlier players. Yet her chemistry with her little nephew Patrick is sweet, lovable, and believable.

 

As for that nephew, young Eli Baker works the stage like a pro. He sings, dances, interacts with others, and never misses a beat. With his cherubic face and stance, he looks like an early Campbell Soup ad. Even better (if that is possible) is Charles Hagerty as the grown-up Patrick, who offers a mellow voice and a fine open style. And one must acknowledge Kirsten Wyatt who runs away with the comic role of Agnes Gooch, injecting the show with its all-too-few moments of humor.

 

While this production gets a mixed review, one must always give four stars to the Goodspeed Theatre (with its locale and its views) -- and of course to Jerry Herman himself.

 

This review also appears in: nytheaterscene.com, jewish-theatre.com, and national Jewish posts & opinion.

 

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