BWW Reviews: Hillbarn Theatre Celebrates Christmas with MAME
Everyone needs a little Christmas. Agree or disagree with her life ethics, but Mame possesses a zest and optimism for life that most people desire and require.
The title character of Jerry Herman's musical and PatRick Dennis' original play throws the most extravagant parties for the most interesting guests. Even when her recently orphaned young nephew, Patrick, walks into the revelry, her merrymaking continues, and it isn't long before Patrick shows off his martini-making skills. Yet despite her unconventional child-rearing methods, Aunt Mame teaches those around her to truly live life. Through the dark depression era, the loss of loved ones, and the unexpected engagement of her "best beau," she carries on.
With a lovely voice and sociable personality, Annmarie Martin leads Hillbarn Theatre's production as the woman, herself. Amiable and not afraid to admit mistakes or fight wrong, Martin's Mame gathers devoted friends around her: A humorous butler (played by the endearing Eric Ribeiro), a Southern gentleman (Daniel Kapler as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside), a tart and often drowsy stage actress (diva Jenifer Tice as Vera Charles), her bright-eyed nephew (Nicholas Garland as young Patrick) and many more.
Jerry Herman's exciting and memorable music demands productions go big or go home. In this line, Gary Stanford Jr.'s fun choreography lights up the stage, bringing sudden surges of energy to a talented cast and well-sung ensemble. Alas, Hillbarn's production lacks what these grand finale dance numbers offer, a certain grander-than-life pizzazz. Lead cast members seem limited by a rehearsed staging that causes awkward pacing and timing issues. Some of Mame and Vera's most humorous lines are lost, and while the high-quality acting and singing is all there, Mame's grand, exaggerated character does not transfer to the musical as a whole. Mae Matos' costumes add great personality to the production, which features a bare, noisy design which sets the concept for the mansion location, but seems incomplete. Although Kuo-Hao Lo's gorgeous art deco curtain-replacement design does make an instant impression.
Still, it would be unfair to leave out that Saturday's quiet matinee audience left smiling and at least one woman was overheard comparing Hillbarn's first-class Broadway style to overworked and less-than-perfect shows seen of late.