BWW Review: Life Is a Banquet as MTG Presents a Delicious MAME
Jerry Herman's second great triumph following the success of Hello Dolly! was Mame in 1966 and a triumphant Broadway debut for Tony winning Angela Lansbury. Based on Patrick Dennis' memoir of his wildly eccentric aunt, the story lent itself beautifully to Herman's upbeat score. It is rarely revived, and thanks to the Musical Theatre Guild, who do fully staged readings of old or lesser known musicals, we got a lovely presentation on Sunday September 23 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
In spite of her wonderful talent, I would not have thought of casting Kelly Lester as Mame, but she gave a magnificent turn in the role, proving what a versatile actress and singer she truly is. We must remember that Mame is Auntie Mame, not only a socialite but a woman who deeply cares about her nephew Patrick (Travis Burnett at 10 and Will Collyer, grown up). Lester like Lansbury shined in this facet of the role, something that Lucille Ball seemed to overlook in her weak interpretation of Mame in the 1974 film.
Burnett stole Act One as a completely precocious, fun loving and intelligent little boy. He is a true triple threat performer and should have a great career in musical theatre ahead of him. Vera Charles (Barbara Carlton Heart) is the lush actress, best friend to Mame, who will do just about anything for attention, and a drink, of course. Heart was delicious, and even when she missed an entrance, got huge applause. "Bosom Buddies" in Act Two was a memorable number for both actresses. The third actress Melissa Fahn essayed Agnes Gooch, also to great audience reception. Her I lived! or "Gooch's Song" was another standout moment in the show. Fahn possesses great vocal chops and put them to exceptional use. Other standouts in the ensemble under Lewis Wilkenfeld's clean, smooth direction were Brent Schindele a pleasure as charming Beauregard, Glenn Shiroma spot.on as loyal butler Ito, Michael Kostroff right on target as mean spirited Babcock, Glenn Rosenblum great to see as eager to please Woolsey, Pamela Hamill dynamic as indomitable Mother Burnside, Katie DeShan delightful as vengeful Sally Kato, Todd Gajdusck and Michelle Lane perfect as the stifling Upsons and Nikki Elena Spies fun to watch as obnoxious Gloria Upson.
Cassie Nickols is to be commended for her musical direction and Heather Castillo for her fine choreography. Praise to AJS Costumes and Jeffrey Schoenberg for pretty costumes, especially for Mame, Vera and Agnes.
When I revisit a show like Mame, I look for new elements to think about, something I may have missed in past productions. But... I still see love as the major ingredient in the script. As bizarre as Mame's philosophy was about living, she truly loved Patrick and his little son. Everything she did was to make them grow into healthy and loving human beings. I can never forget "Life is a banquet...and most poor sons' a bitches are starving to death." I only wish I were as all out caring and loving as Auntie Mame.
Mame is a big show to produce and MTG is amazing in putting together such a terrific production with less than 25 hours rehearsal, according to union rules.. Next up: Zorba on November 11 at the Alex!
(photo credit: Gordan Goodman)