IN BRIEF Tracie Bennett’s star wattage lights up this shimmering revival of Jerry Herman’s feel-good Broadway hit
We all love a survivor.
Unseen in the UK since its 1969 London debut (when it ran at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for almost 500 performances), Nick Winston’s stripped-down production works well because it understands that Mame is the show and with the casting of Bennett, the show is secure. The show’s intimacy of scale has not limited its ambition- or indeed, its success.
The show is set in New York in 1928. When ten- year old Patrick arrives at the door of his only living relative, it’s is up to high-living auntie Mame to take the boy in and teach him about life -and what a job she does! Together, they weather the depression, Wall Street Crash, stuffed-shirts and bourgeois bores, skilfully side-stepping humdrum reality whenever possible. Mame gaily makes her own authentic way through good times and bad, hard times and good, all with her indomitable spirit untarnished. Mame is a gold-plated survivor.
Bennett concocts her Mame with all the skill of a mixologist. Two parts heart, two parts optimism, one part zany, with a twist of Tallalulah Bankhead in the vocal delivery. It’s deliciously intoxicating. Coupled with a five-star voice with power and sophistication, it’s an unbeatable combination and she justified her standing ovation from the audience I was with.
Lochlan White as younger Patrick authentically expresses his sweet innocence coupled with a playfulness which enhances the chemistry between him and Mame. He more than holds his own with his number “My Best Girl”.
Harriet Thorpe gives a delightfully overblown Vera an appealing mix of Martini- haze and sharp- tongued sass, to the audience’s pleasure.
The cast of 20 all give value, and the big chorus numbers are of a size which still satisfies.
Winston’s acute direction and choreography allows numbers like Open a New Window, to both tell a story and add also atmosphere, value and interest to the extended number. He wisely reins back on numbers like Bosom Buddies, that nicely affectionate bitch- fest where the words do the work, which raises just the right laughs.
The cleverly minimalistic set relies on a few well selected pieces to create an atmosphere and that is all that is needed. Costumes again are good, with the spending wisely done where it is best seen- most particularly in Mame’s sparkling and stylish wardrobe changes, which are a delight.
Any musical with Alex Parker as MD is a winner from the start, and as usual he works wonders with a small band to Jason Carr’s orchestrations. (Just a side note here, I was very disappointed to see that the musicians received no credit in the Royal & Derngate programme- credit where its due, folks, please!).
This two- week extension to the show ‘s original run palpably misses Tim Flavin’s playing of Beauregard; but in truth this is Bennett’s show from start to finish and she gives audiences just what they want.
MAME received the warmest reception from the Northampton audience (on Saturday 11th January), proving that not only do we all love a survivor, but that also we all love a good story with great music done with heart and flair. Producer Katy Lipson has scored another direct hit with a Broadway classic, proving yet again that she is a formidable force for the future of musicals both old and new.
MAME next plays Salisbury Playhouse from 20-25 January. For information and tickets click here