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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Sep. 25, 2017 2 years ago

'Mame' marches to a different drummer in Manatee Players production

Despite a rushed ending, "Mame" is a fun, lively show that will entertain with its flashy period costumes and old-school Broadway jazz tunes.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

“Mame,” the Manatee Players current musical, is a love letter to the play’s title character: Mame Dennis. She might be based on a real person. Even if she isn’t, she feels like one. Simultaneously, Mame feels larger than life—a kind of an avant-garde guru. Like Yoda, she takes a young protégé on a journey of enlightenment.

Patrick Dennis, her nephew, is the pupil in question.

At the start of the musical, he drops into Mame’s life when his single father dies. Mame is a wealthy New York City socialite with a bohemian soul who lives life to the fullest. She takes Patrick in without hesitation. Despite the objections of his stuffy guardian, Mame instructs the lad on the art of living large. The stock market crash of 1929 puts an end to her extravagant lessons. Mame loses everything except her penthouse; her underfed, unpaid servants stay of sheer loyalty. Mame, who’s never worked a day in her life, bravely tries to earn a paycheck. She stinks at everything she tries. She’s fired from one job after another. No problem! A wealthy southern gentleman falls in love with her. And without any conniving, Mame marries into wealth! After a decade or so of marital bliss, her husband falls off the Matterhorn. Mame becomes a wealthy widow. Patrick, now a young man, is faced with a decision …

Should he follow in Mame’s kooky, non-conformist, footsteps? Poor kid. If he wants to rebel, his only choice is to be the world’s most uptight square.

This loopy plot unfolds with a decent (if improbable) script by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee (of “Inherit the Wind”) and catchy, old-school Broadway tunes by Jerry Herman.

The Manatee Players put on an enjoyable show. It’s hard to go wrong with Herman’s bouncy, brassy musical numbers. Or the musical’s cartoony characters—which derive from Patrick Dennis’s original novel, “Auntie Mame.”

Ellen Kleinschmidt is suitably charismatic as Mame—the patron saint of nonconformists everywhere. She defies society, whether she can afford to or not. Jacque Workman is a hoot as Mame’s best pal, Vera, a great lady of the theater who’s long past her expiration date. The two make a hilarious team in “Bosom Buddies,” a catfight of a duet celebrating the hidden daggers of feminine competition. The father-and-son team of Michael and Nathan Peacock play the older and younger incarnations of Patrick. They’re both winning, and the Peacock père can really sing. Christen Manuel is funny as Agnes Gooch, Patrick’s nanny and Mame’s socially awkward amanuensis. Props also to Peter Salefsky for the briefly seen Beauregard Burnside (the doomed Southern gentleman); Peter Ruscoe’s Dwight Babcock, the quintessentially crabby banker; and Lauren Nelsen’s brightly brainless Gloria.

Mame marches to a different drummer, and in this case, it's Jerry Herman’s old-school Broadway jazz. William Coleman’s brassy band keeps the parade going under William Coleman’s music direction. Thanks to choreography by Vanessa Russo, flashy, fanciful period costumes by Georgina Willmott and a versatile set by Caleb Carrier, it’s a lively parade indeed. Though, sometimes, the parade seems like a long one.    

While it’s a fun show, “Mame” is showing its age.

The musical that is.

It’s overstuffed by modern standards with 21 songs, 28 characters and a running time of two hours and 50 minutes. To a director, it’s probably like herding cats.

Director Kelly Burnette keeps all the cats in line … usually.

The ending is the one that got away. Patrick was set to marry a WASP airhead (aka Gloria) and live a life of quiet desperation. Thanks to Mame’s finagling, he marries Pegeen (Coral Furtado) instead—a girl he remembers from the experimental school of his youth. They ultimately have a child. With the parents’ permission, Mame takes the kid to India for his own voyage of spiritual enlightenment. The circle continues.

That should play like a big moment. But the climax doesn’t feel like a climax. The scene feels rushed and the stakes aren’t clear.   

Aside from this misstep, this warmhearted love letter to a bohemian guru will win you over.

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