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BWW Reviews: MACK AND MABEL, Chichester Festival Theatre, July 21 2015


'Mack and Mabel' could possibly be Jerry Herman's greatest score. It's certainly the score with the most resonance for a British audience (the programme notes for this Chichester production even highlight how fondly the music is thought of in the UK thanks to Torvill and Dean's adoption of it). And however good this production turned out to be, its forthcoming UK tour is bound to be a hit simply on the name of Michael Ball, its leading man.

As a show, however, it presents a few problems. Most notable here is that the revised script, ploughing through the story at the expense of characterisation, just isn't that funny - rather embarrassing for a musical whose male protagonist reiterates, "I want to make the world laugh!" Fortunately Stephen Mear's clever choreography helps out here - the Keystone Cops number is a great piece of well-executed physical comedy - and Anna-Jane Casey's sly, knowing 'Tap Your Troubles Away' is a showstopper.

Enough of the material - what of the cast? Casey is, as always, a thrilling triple threat; Jack Edwards is stand-out as Fatty Arbuckle; and Mark Inscoe is good if woefully underused as W D Taylor.

As for our titular characters, they're rather incongruous. There are times when you forget that it's Michael Ball, so gruff and grouchy is he - that is, until he begins to sing and unleashes those well-known golden tones, sometimes shaking you out of your suspension of disbelief.

And few reviewers will comment on it, but Ball's age seems to stay the same throughout the action, despite it spanning two decades. From start to finish, he appears to be a man in late middle-age. Meanwhile, Rebecca LaChance opposite him looks young. Extremely young. When we first meet Mabel, she's presumably a teenager - but apparently doesn't age that much afterwards. Some viewers might be forgiven for feeling a little uncomfortable with the pairing. The real-life Mack and Mabel had an age gap of 12 years, but directors have happily cast much older men and much younger women in the roles (witness the criticism levelled at the original production when Robert Preston played opposite the 30-years-younger Bernadette Peters).

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.

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From This Author Carrie Dunn

Carrie is the UK editor-in-chief for BroadwayWorld. After spending her formative years reading books and ending up with a Masters degree in English literature from (read more...)