Mame in Concert
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 11 August 2016, San Francisco, CA
Continuing its tribute to Jerry Herman, the successful team that brought last month’s Hello, Dolly! In Concert are presenting MAME, the 1966 musical version of the wildly successful 1956 Patrick Dennis stage play and 1958 film that starred Rosalind Russell as the madcap, bohemian Mame. Of course people love the Herman score, but what elevates these shows are the wonderful book by Director F. Allen Sawyer, chock full of tasty backstory tidbits surrounding the various productions, delightful narration by Darlene Popovic, and the consistently excellent Musical Direction of local favorite Joe Wicht. Add to the mix cabaret and musical theatre heavyweights Sharon McNight and Meg Mackay, and you’ve got a fun dose of Herman.
If you haven’t seen Russell’s tour de force film version, Auntie Mame, you’ve been living under a rock. It’s a camp classic, was the highest grossing film of 59 and was nominated for 6 Academy Awards. Based on its success, as well as writer Patrick Dennis’ hit with a sequel, Little Me starring Sid Caesar, producers Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee brought in Jerry Herman to write the score with Mary Martin in mind as Mame. F. Allen Sawyer has done his homework and provides the background minutiae that are every musical theatre aficionado’s lifeblood. A little known story of Frankie Michaels, the youngest Tony Award winner ever for his role as little Patrick, selling his Tony to pay for medical bills before his death elicits a touchingly sad response.
When Martin passed on the role, a lofty string on heavyweights was considered including; Ethel Merman, Gwen Verdon, Simone Signoret, Mitzi Gaynor, Judy Garland, Kate Hepburn, Doris Day and even Phyllis Diller! But Herman wanted Lansbury who became a huge star and won the Tony Award. After 775 performances, she was replaced by Janis Paige, then Jane Morgan, and finally Ann Miller (Sawyer throws in an amusing anecdote about Miller being clocked on the head by a failing prop).
Mame in Concert doesn’t just regurgitate the entire score of the musical, rather smartly chooses material from the early film, the 66 musical and the disastrous 1974 musical film starring Lucille Ball. In Concert opens with “It’s Today”, an old Herman number called “Showtune in 2/4”, and includes a line taken from his mother, “Parties can happen whenever you feel the urge, even on a weekday”. Laura Arthur sings the 1958 theme song “Drifting” composed by Bronislau Kaper, originally an instrumental and shines on the comic “Gooch’s Song”. Bass of the Bay Benn Bacot lends his bottom voice on the title track “Mame”, and Jesse Cortez lends a childlike innocence on “My Best Girl”, a duet sung with Meg Mackay as Mame.
Sharon McNight, as the Vera Charles, sinks her teeth into “Vera”, a clever riff on Herman’s “Mame” with special lyrics written by Tom Orr, the comic “Moon Song” and of course, the famously sarcastic “Bosom Buddies” duet with Mame. Branden Noel Thomas sings “That’s How Young I Feel” originally a Mame number, where she teaches the youngsters to jitterbug. Mackay deftly handles the powerful ballad “If He Walked Into My Life”. Popovic is wonderful on “Loving You”, sung by Robert Preston in the 74 film version.
It’s all held together with Wicht’s lovely accompaniment and Popovic’s sometimes unscripted banter. Hopefully Sawyer and Wicht will team again for another project – Sondheim or Webber perhaps?