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Review Roundup: Encores! MACK & MABEL

Mack and Mabel

Performances are underway for the New York City Center Encores! first show of the 2020 season- Mack & Mabel, running for seven performances through February 23. Led by Broadway's Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha in the title roles, the production will also star Major Attaway (Fatty Arbuckle), Michael Berresse (William Desmond Taylor), Lilli Cooper (Lottie Ames), Ben Fankhauser (Frank Wyman), Jordan Gelber (Mr. Kessel), Evan Kasprzak (Freddy), Raymond J. Lee (Andy), Kevin Ligon (Eddie), Janet Noh (Ella), and Allen Lewis Rickman (Mr. Bauman).

A love letter to the silent film era, Mack & Mabel tells the story of Mack Sennett (Sills) and his first great discovery and muse, the comedienne Mabel Normand (Socha). Mack makes Mabel a star, but Mack's insatiable drive to succeed coupled with Mabel's natural vulnerability-the key to her audience appeal-turns their love affair into a high wire act with no net.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Times: While the romantic attraction between Mack and Mabel seems pro forma here, Sills and Socha do turn in a gorgeous "I Won't Send Roses." If, during that song, you feel the urge to stage an intervention to stop Mabel from getting involved with this willful cad, that is to Socha's credit. But Mabel's real chemistry is with a smitten screenwriter, Frank, played with near-poignancy by Ben Fankhauser. The best part of the evening, though, is the Entr'acte, when only the orchestra is onstage, and the lighting (by Ken Billington) changes color with the colors of the music. This is the one moment that is overtly a tribute to Herman, and it is touching.

Matt Windman, amNY: For those such as myself who have listened to the show's Broadway and London cast albums for years and wondered why "Mack & Mabel" does not get performed more often, the Encores! production (smoothly directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes) provides an opportunity to finally experience its book scenes (which can be uneven, downbeat and exposition-heavy) while also basking in the thrill of a full orchestra and Broadway-caliber cast performing the magnificent score, which contains elements of better-known shows by Herman such as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame" (including a big production number where the cast fawns over the leading lady). While often too over-the-top and declamatory, Sills ("The Scarlet Pimpernel") gives an emotional and vocally rich performance. Socha ("Head Over Heels"), also with a big voice and big personality, makes for an endearing and playful Mabel. The strong cast also includes Lili Cooper ("SpongeBob SquarePants"), Michael Berresse ("A Chorus Line") and Ben Fankhauser ("Newsies").

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Director-choreographer Josh Rhodes, who staged Grand Hotel at Encores! in 2018, moves a giant cast of 30 nimbly through everything from cheeky, kicky Charlestons to bumbling, fumbling rubber-limbed Keystone Kops physical comedy. His intricate Busby Berkeley-esque precision tap number, "Tap Your Troubles Away," sung by Lilli Cooper as hoofer Lottie Ames in front of a hallucinogenic Mylar curtain, is a giddy delight, especially set to Herman's insanely upbeat melody and hilariously downbeat lyrics ("Tap your troubles away/ You're fat as a horse/ And find that you're knocked up").

Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: Midway through the show's exhilarating entr'acte, three handsome photographs of a younger Jerry Herman descended into view above the orchestra as a tribute to a beloved Broadway songwriter. This fond, agreeable interpretation of Herman's imperfect darling of a musical is another.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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