Review Roundup: MACK & MABEL with Michael Ball and Rebecca LaChance
Mack & Mabel, which will embark on a UK & Ireland Tour in Autumn 2015 following its premiere at Chichester Festival Theatre, stars double Oliver award-winning Michael Ball and Rebecca LaChance. Based on the real-life romance between Hollywood legends Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, it tells the story of a group of pioneering filmmakers who changed the world surrounded by the great fun of the silent screen: heroes in capes, girls tied to the tracks, glamorous Bathing Beauties and the chaos of the Keystone Kops.
Mack & Mabel features an outstanding score by Jerry Herman and is widely admired for its classic Broadway hits including I Won't Send Roses, Tap Your Troubles Away and Time Heals Everything.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Carrie Dunn, BroadwayWorld: With so little support from their material, both Ball and LaChance have an uphill struggle to make their characters even halfway empathetic, let alone likeable. LaChance begins well, a sprightly, lively waitress bursting in on the scene and revitalising the formulaic silent comedies. But we don't see her rise to stardom or her descent into illness or any real nuance of character, so when she sings 'Time Heals Everything', we know so little about Mabel - or indeed why she's in love with Mack - it's difficult to feel too much for her. But then, the piece has presented so many problems to so many creative teams over the years, it might be the fault of the show rather than the production. The score is as uplifting as ever - but the concept remains just as flawed.
Clare Brennan, Guardian: Mack and Mabel's conflicts mirror Hollywood's early tug of war between action-dense comic shorts and longer, spectacle-rich love-story narratives. Michael Stewart's book (here revised by Stewart's sister Francine Pascal) and Jerry Herman's lyrics and music (admirably served by Robert Scott's musical direction) interweave the two. A smart idea, but the battle is uneven. Mack's is always the dominant voice. The big, film-style production numbers, choreographed byStephen Mear, are spectacular. Anna-Jane Casey scintillatingly leads the company in Tap Your Troubles Away, for instance. Widescreen filmic effects - a train snaking along vanishing-point rails under a starlit sky - are brilliantly achieved by mergers of Robert Jones's set and Jon Driscoll's projections. It's the Mack-style comedy, though, that steals the show. Re-creations of silent-film scenes, as arranged by clowning company Spymonkey, culminating in the Keystone Cop number Hit 'Em on the Head, are the true beating heart of Mack's story: romance never stands a chance.
Robert Gore-Langton, Daily Mail: This 1974 musical - with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, creator of Hello, Dolly! - became better known when Torvill and Dean skated to victory at the 1982 World Figure Skating Championships to the sound of its famous overture. Now it's back, but I'm afraid this glamorous revival will do nothing much to reverse its reputation for being all score and no proper story. The genial entertainer Michael Ball plays Mack Sennett, the silent-film director who makes a star of the burger-flipping Mabel Normand, whisking her from her ketchuppy world and training her by numbers as if she was a particularly stupid circus horse.
Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: In a way, this is a timeless cautionary tale about mixing business with pleasure, and letting love in. Mack's anti-romantic ballad "I Won't Send Roses" neatly sums up male inadequacies: "I won't send roses/ Or hold the door/ I won't remember/ Which dress you wore". His wounded beloved later gets a solo song, "Time Heals Everything", that has a similar surface breeze, the same inner tempest. As Mabel Rebecca LaChance is a beautiful fit for an accidental starlet who instinctively knows how to widen her eyes in exaggerated terror at moustachioed villains but refuses to play the part of obliging wall-flower in real-life. Brought over from the States, she feels like a find in her own right.
Neil Norman, Express: American import Rebecca LaChance is an impressive Mabel, with plenty of sass and sex even if her singing is a little strident. But her concluding scenes as she is ravaged by drugs and alcohol are magnificent. Another fine example of what Chichester has made its own under Church's stewardship - a grand revival of a grand musical.
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: It's one of the classiest producers of musical theatre in the country, so it comes as no surprise that Chichester is offering yet another slick and stylish show, to dance and tap in the footsteps of current West End hit Gypsy. There's a lot going for Jonathan Church's elegant production of the defiantly feel-bad Mack and Mabel (1974), with beautiful music and lyrics by Broadway legend Jerry Herman, but Michael Stewart's book remains troublesome. Despite some sensitive revisions here by Stewart's novelist sister Francine Pascal, it essentially leaves us rooting overwhelmingly for the latter half of the eponymous couple, and that's a problematic imbalance.
Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times: The quality of staging and performance cannot counteract the often patchy and sometimes downright perfunctory nature of the material. For such a large-scale piece to end on a simple shouted Sennett line (and, here, a video montage) rather than a climactic number leaves us feeling that both we and Herman have missed something.