“Mame” is a classic musical. It’s not staged very often. The current Manatee Players production makes it evident why both those observations are true.
During musical numbers “Mame” is hard to beat, especially for people who consider the mid-20th century the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. From the rousing title song, to the poignant “If He Walked Into My Life,” the sprightly “We Need a Little Christmas,” the sardonic “Bosom Buddies” and a dozen or so more obscure numbers, Jerry Herman’s score is a consistent delight.
The book, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, is another matter. They based the musical on their own non-musical play “Auntie Mame,” and the novel of the same name by Patrick Dennis, both of which were huge commercial and critical hits.
But in the musical version, the story lacks pace and development. It just lurches from song to song with no narrative flow. (Mame visits the South and is ostracized, but three minutes later all of Dixie is literally singing her praises.) Even worse, it lacks laughs. This is a musical comedy with not a single funny line.
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The Manatee Players cast, directed by Kelly Burnette, overflows with great voices and charming performances that get the maximum effect out of those great songs.
The songs make it worthwhile, though, and the Manatee Players cast, directed by Kelly Burnette, overflows with great voices and charming performances that get the maximum effect out of those great songs.
Manatee Players regular Ellen Kleinschmidt has the title role. She has a lot of moments that stick with you after the show’s over, but perhaps her finest comes when she stands alone on stage and powerfully offers “If He Walked Into My Life.”
There are plenty of other knockout performances in lead roles. Christen Manuel is Agnes Gooch, Mame’s socially awkward secretary who follows her mentor’s life lessons too carelessly, has a gorgeous voice that she only gets to wield in one song, the funny but emotional “Gooch’s Song.” Jacque Workman as Vera, Mame’s catty best friend, is great fun to watch and listen to, and almost ekes some chuckles out of the lame jokes she has to deliver.
The role of Patrick, Mame’s nephew is split between Nathan Peacock (as the younger Patrick, mostly in the first act) and his father Michael Peacock as the older Patrick in the second act. It’s the Manatee Players debut for both. Michael’s tenor voice is achingly beautiful, and Nathan, who’s only 10 years old, handles his large and essential role with aplomb.
The scenic design is inconsistent, ranging from the opulent and elegant art deco interior of Mame’s home to some ineffective projections. Georgina Wilmott provides and countless number of gorgeous 1920s-era costumes. The five-piece pit band led by William Coleman provides great support.
“Mame” is an old-fashioned musical, which is both a good and a bad thing. Its tunes are catchy and its lyrics smart, but its ideas and its structure feel dated. It’s a period piece both in its Depression-era setting and in its 1960s Broadway origins. The songs and the singing give the show plenty to like for almost any audience member, but it may resonate most with people who like to revel in nostalgia.
Details: Through Oct 1, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.