If you are looking for a gentle, or as Nancy Ethison described her after the show, “a genteel MAME”, then the rendition that opened tonight at Muncie Civic Theatre is the show for you. However, if you want the larger-than-life, rambunctious, full of energy, full of pizzazz MAME, that we remember in versions from Rosalind Russell, Lucille Ball, and Angela Lansbury….well, you will not see her there.
This Mame is so genteel, in fact, that you will find it hard to believe that Mr. Babcock (Gary Kern) could possibly find anything wrong with young Patrick (Pip Williamson) living with Mame (Laura Williamson) You can see why he might find problems with her friends maybe, but not her. The energy and pizzazz comes from Todd Sandman as Vera Charles and Lisa Wade as Gooch, and they don’t fail to deliver whenever they step on stage. In fact, Sandman’s “Man in the Moon” and Wade’s “What Do I Do Now” are the show stoppers of the evening.
A charming and sweet moment does come from the lead actress, Laura Williamson, when with her real-life son, Pip Williamson (Patrick), they sit on the steps of the stage and they sing “My Best Girl.”
What seems to be a continuing problem is that Williamson does not have the vocal capability to handle this type of role that calls for a stage voice that can “belt out” a song. She has a lovely voice, but it does have the power necessary for this role, and to make Mame’s songs believable and add the energy that they need. To cover vocal insufficiency the chorus was brought in at odd points to end songs that should have been Mame belting a closing….it made things seem disconnected at times. “We Need a Little Christmas” was so lacking in enthusiasm. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, but there was no verve or energy on stage and made it unbelievable and no fun….and it was supposed to be FUN.
Also, when Michael Williamson (Beau Burnside) walked on stage, I thought he had showed up for the wrong show. The Costumer had him looking like he was all ready for “Fiddler on the Roof.” Vera Charles’ costumes were gorgeous. Mame’s dresses were very pretty, but Mame was an over-the-top character. She would NEVER have worn a velvet dress with a prim little white lace collar like the Costumer had her dressed in. Never! Never! All those black dresses! No! No! Color! Life! She loved life!…..and….she would have dripped with jewelry! Vera Charles would never have outdone her! You missed the boat with Mame in costuming and Jewels…but did great with Vera….if you did Vera. My bet is that Vera dressed herself.
A truly bright spot in the show was Terry Whitt Bailey’s choreography and the work of the chorus. Sean Orloskey’s art work on the set is something you must take time to admire.
A horribly awkward moment, and very poor staging is when Mame finds out she has become a widow. Also, someone may, or may not, have missed lines….but it is really a place where work needs to be done. The Stage Manager/Technical Person needs to do something about sight lines. From where we were sitting it was very distracting to see everything off stage on stage right….people moving around, etc.
While the chorus is singing the title song, “MAME,” and performing a fantastic choreographed number, Williamson stands, with arms folded across her chest….barely any acknowledgement, no real emotion…she desperately needed more direction for this number.
Sonja Rees (Mother Burnside) gave a delightful performance as the skeptical mother-in-law to be. Sean Orloskey (Mr. Upton) and Julia Bratton (Mrs. Upton) gave very good performances as the parents of Patrick’s girlfriend. Jarien Rees (Peter Dennis) was quite believable as the son of Patrick. Gary Kern turned in the properly gruff Mr. Babcock, who had to oversee the management of Patrick’s care by Mame.
It was not a bad show and it could improve as the show progresses and a lot of shows do. It is only painful when the orchestra plays…..get rid of the trumpet or get it in tune! Can you tune a trumpet? Because this show lacks a vibrant, enthusiastic Mame, who instills that enthusiasm in the whole cast, this show comes off a bit lackluster. Final word…that is the weakest ending to a play I have ever seen. Total disappointment. As my theatre companion, j95, said to me, “Remember the song ‘You’ve gotta’ have heart?’….well, this MAME has no heart.”
It’s worth the price of the ticket, though, to see Todd Sandman and Lisa Wade….truly outstanding performances.
Personal Opinion Note: Since Muncie Civic decided to play this old Classic favorite “camp” and cast a lead part to a male, (and he did a magnificent job) then they should have given him the lead. It would have been a far better show. He could have belted the songs the way they needed to be sung, and it would have had the over-the-top spirit of joy and love of life of MAME, which it should have had, and which it did not.
Art & Soul by Phoebe LLC