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BWW Review: MACK & MABEL at The Alchemy Theatre

The hottest ticket in town, Mack & Mabel is not to be missed!

BWW Review: MACK & MABEL at The Alchemy Theatre

I was anxious to get back to the theatre after the pandemic hiatus on two levels - lingering fear of the 'Rona versus my life-long love affair with what is for me the greatest artistic performance genre of all: Musical Theatre. And we see here what won. I love musical theatre so much that I earned a degree as a triple threat from an exclusive conservatory, and know from whence I speak. Or type. While I could write endlessly on the subject, I mention it here because not only is Mack & Mabel a Jerry Herman musical theatre masterpiece, but the story gives us a good hard look into the 130ish-year-old American film industry, and the pioneers who perfected it. Couple that with the fact that musical theatre is itself a strictly American artform, as American as apple pie, baseball, and well, the movies - and movies stars, producers, directors, and audiences. Put it all together and you have an action-packed evening that celebrates all things Americana in one big fat slick package that is Mack & Mabel.

Mack Sennett (1880-1960) did not actually discover Mabel Normand (1893-1930), but she was his leading lady for many years and the great love of his life. Sennett's Keystone Studios produced comedy films, known as "two-reelers" that were wildly popular with the American public and spawned the careers of dozens of legendary film artists. The original main building, and the first totally enclosed film stage and studio built in 1912 still stands today. A carefully preserved monument that pays homage to perhaps the most unique American industry of all time.

Mabel Normand was a phenom in her own right, seen by many as the leading lady of silent films themselves, and long revered as the first woman to own a studio and production company. A fine director, writer, and producer in her own right, Mabel Normand was immortalized once again in 2014, by American rock icon Stevie Nicks with her song and recording, Mabel Normand. Not shabby for a struggling, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn beauty who would leave such a huge mark on the world after only 38 short years. Not shabby at all...

Director Michael Cooper presents all of this delicious American history to us in the style of silent movies, replete with Jerry Herman's Tin Pan Alley sounding score delivered to perfection by Dr. Ellie Jarrett Shattles, via the requisite old upright movie house piano. The style continues with a set and costumes in blacks, whites, greys, and bursts of color that adorn artist Sarah-Marie Curry, personification of Mabel's infamous beauty and glamour. Curry somehow manages to actually be not only beautiful and glamorous, but absolutely adorable as well. Vulnerable and strong, witty and fey, Curry juggles opposing emotions effortlessly while she makes us fall madly, hopelessly in love with her as does the entire cast of characters, including of course, Mack Sennett portrayed wonderfully by triple-threat Sebastian Vitale. Mack tries not to fall for Mabel because he knows he won't ever be that guy that 'sends roses'. Vitale breathes life into a difficult role that could fall prey to a characterization of the macho control freak in the hands of an unseasoned actor. But Vitale is a versatile performer who imbues Mack with the persona of a "take no prisoners" type who all too often finds himself teetering on the edge.

Also based (loosely) on historical figures, are hoofer Lottie Ames and writer Frank Wyman, Katya Welch and Noah Steele, respectively. These two characters are the glue that keeps the company together through thick and thin and represent for us the everyman and everywoman of the movie industry, they are allowed at times to step away from their characters enough to represent some silent movie archetypes of the era. Sassy, brassy, and bold, Lottie never fools herself for a minute that she isn't what we all are - show trash. I write that term with nothing but love and if you aren't an artist yourself, then no, you are not permitted to use it, but I do and I will. We are all show trash, no one better than the other, and we all have one goal that never deviates: The show. We have the audience first, the show next, and then the rest of us. Lottie and Frank understand this, as do Welch and Steele. Both performers are strong, and their roles are important and essential. James Redondo is a fabulous Fatty Arbuckle, and Sean Ryan Moran a creepy William Desmond Taylor, with some great moments from Nicholas Windel, Rafael Virguez, Mark Aspenleiter, Ali Meier, Stephanie Slayton, Eli Mendenhall, and Lucia McMahon rounding out the cast.

Sadly, Mack & Mabel just isn't produced often enough, so hats off to producers Marnie Near and Christopher Shea for gambling on it. I strongly recommend this production, not just because it doesn't come around very often, but because it's a great show with an excellent cast, and excellence is what the Alchemy Theatre is all about.

With some performances already sold out, tickets will go fast. Nab them while you can!

Mack & Mabel runs through May 29th. Get your tickets online at:

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From This Author - Jesse Griffith