Mame Whistles a New Song in Goodspeed Revival
By Amy J. Barry
There is something so charismatic about the character Auntie Mame -- the free-thinking, free-spirited, kindhearted grand dame of the stage and film classic Mame -- that the Goodspeed revival shines, even sans the super stars of yesteryear, who played the leading lady (Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury, Lucille Ball).
The Goodspeed pick, Louise Pitre, holds her own as Auntie Mame, bringing an understated charm and engaging energy to the role, pleasant if unspectacular vocals to the musical numbers.
Ray Roderick directs the musical that opened on Broadway in 1966 with the winning combination of book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.
The play begins in high gear with the colorful, high-powered song and dance number “It’s Today” in Mame’s New York City apartment. It’s 1928, the tail end of the wild and glamorous Flapper era, and everyone is partying hard.
The recently orphaned 10-year-old Patrick, delightfully performed by Eli Baker with a lovely singing voice to boot, arrives from the Midwest with his nanny, Agnes Gooch (Kirsten Wyatt), to move in with his Aunt Mame, his only living relative.
It’s stated in Mame’s brother’s will that Patrick attend a conservative boys school, and the sour-puss Mr. Babcock (Paul Carlin) pays a call to discuss the proper education of the child. Already his aunt’s well-trained protege, the little boy, who can barely reach the top of the bar, mixes Mr. Babcock a perfect martini.
Mame wants Patrick to go to a liberal school in the village.
“You’re going to see life, Patrick,” she insists. “Not the inside of a safety deposit box.”
This leads into the wonderful, light-hearted “Open a New Window,” in which Mame instructs Patrick, “The fellow you want to be is three-dimensional, soaking up life through your toes.”
And then the stock market crashes. Mame’s bohemian, extravagant lifestyle is dramatically altered and she takes a series of jobs that she’s fired from one after the other. While working as a manicurist, she files the nails, until they bleed, of handsome Southerner Beauregard Burnside -- playfully performed by James Lloyd Reynolds -- but he falls in love with her, anyway.
Down on her luck, but always one to make lemonade out of lemons, Mame decorates her house early for the holidays, along with Patrick and Agnes, to the tune of the catchy “We Need a Little Christmas.”
Beauregard shows up and proposes to Mame. They travel to Peckerwood, Georgia to meet his family and go on a Fox Hunt -- an over-the-top silly scene.
Act II opens with Patrick now grown into a young college man (Charles Hagerty), corresponding with Mame, who is traveling the world with her beau Beauregard. That is, until he dies falling off an Alp and the ever-resilient Mame returns to reinvent herself once again.
Hagerty captures the sweetness of the younger Patrick in an older body, and in a moving reprise of “My Best Girl,” sung in the first act by young Patrick and Mame, they remind each other of the special, invincible bond they share.
More silliness ensues -- where the musical gets too broad, playing for cheap laughs --when Patrick gets engaged to Fairfield County debutante Gloria Upson, who’s repulsively snobby parents push all Mame’s buttons.
More buffoonery breaks out when the buttoned-up Agnes gets “knocked up,” although Wyatt’s comic acting is first-rate, and she has a terrific set of pipes showcased in the song, “What Do I Do Now?”
The cliches are counter-balanced by such numbers as “If He Walked Into My Life,” one of the show’s most touching and sober songs, triggered by the friction between Patrick and Mame over his play-it-safe choices. Mame second-guesses whether she did the best she could, something every parent worries about, sadly acknowledging, “I never really found the boy before I lost him.”
But Patrick sees the light, and in the end, Auntie Mame has another little boy (his son) to mentor in the ways of living life to the fullest.
The production’s magic is enhanced by glamorous and romantic scenic design (James Youmans) and lighting (Charlie Morrison), along with marvelous costumes (Gregg Barnes) and hair and wig design (David Lawrence), spanning the musical’s 1928-46 timeframe, and Michael O’Flaherty’s first-rate musical direction.
Performances of Mame continue through July 7 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For times and tickets, call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org
This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.