If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Mame” Without a Mame at Goodspeed
Goodspeed Musicals is currently presenting a spiffy revival of that 1960s warhorse, “Mame”. Based on the popular novel by Patrick Dennis about a free-spirited aunt who takes in her brother’s young son during the Depression, “Mame” may show its seams here and there but in the right hands and with that cheerful Jerry Herman score, you really aren’t going to carp. Much. The situation at Goodspeed may be questionable, but far from dire. There is definite fun to be had here.
The long shadow of Angela Lansbury still looms large over any actress of a certain age who takes on the bohemian title character of “Mame”. At Goodspeed, Louise Pitre, who created the lead role in Broadway’s “Mamma Mia” and won a Tony nomination in the process, takes on this outsized character rather gingerly. This Mame Dennis, who believes that “life is a banquet” and “we need a little Christmas”, seems decidedly more demure here. By now, Ms. Pitre may have grown more comfortable in the role, but at the show I caught it was still very much a tentative performance. And “tentative” is not an adjective you apply to Mame Dennis.
Under the here and there direction of Ray Roderick, Pitre seems adrift, seemingly unaware of what to do with her hands. Indeed, the Act One finale featuring the rousing title song found Pitre awkwardly roaming the stage, holding a riding crop and ill-fitted in an ugly black costume (the only miss by the otherwise fine work of designer Gregg Barnes). There was little sense of fun or life in the role clearly evident in the tepid first act. Things do improve in the musical’s second half, however, and Pitre is especially strong singing Mame’s glorious torch song, “If He Walked Into My Life”.
As Vera Charles, Mame’s cynical best friend, Judy Blazer also misses the mark and her timing of some delicious one-liners ultimately falls flat. But Kirsten Wyatt, as the spinster nanny Agnes Gooch, is a singular delight, raising the energy level whenever she appears on stage. As young Patrick, the cherubic Eli Baker also injects boundless enthusiasm into the proceedings and, as older Patrick, handsome Charles Hagerty shines with a beautiful rendition of “My Best Girl”. James Lloyd Reynolds oozes southern hospitality as Mame’s new husband and Kellyn Uhl is appropriately dreadful -- in a funny and precise way -- as Patrick’s ill-advised intended.
The great Jerry Herman score is still worth hearing at Goodspeed and includes such chipper standards as “It’s Today”, “Bosom Buddies” and “Open a New Window”. James Youmans scenic design works well for Mame’s Art Deco apartment but a permanent upstage staircase doesn’t morph into a southern porch comfortably and also seems to impede Vince Pesce’s otherwise lively choreography. With the exception of that one unfortunate outfit for Pitre, Gregg Barnes’ costuming has plenty of bangles and spangles and covers the nearly 20-year time period admirably. All said, this “Mame” -- even with a less than an ideal center -- still makes for a pleasant visit.
“Mame” has been extended at Goodspeed Musicals through July 7. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is current chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.