Sunday, June 18, 2006

Mame (The SOB Review) - The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theatre, Washington, DC

Mame (The SOB Review) - The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theatre, Washington, DC

***1/2 (out of ****)

Although I've previously enjoyed repeated viewings of Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell, I had never before seen the glorious musical adaptation of Patrick Dennis' novel about his beloved aunt. I had no idea what I was missing. The Kennedy Center revival of Mame has an exuberant brilliance that shines throughout.

While critics unfortunately converged on the show during the third day of previews -- giving only tepid reviews to Christine Baranski's portrayal of the title character -- it's clear that had they waited, they would have seen the Mame they thirsted for. In a bravura performance, Baranski more than commands the stage and captures Mame's "live, live, live" essence with gusto. The queen of perfect timing, Baranski asserts herself, whether in delivering a comic line or deadpan look. Coupled with a gorgeous singing voice -- if not always enough to overpower the formidible orchestra -- this multi-talented actress possesses the charm, wit and poise to make hers a most triumphant and confident Mame, one who lives life to the fullest and persuasively encourages everyone around her to do the same.

Despite the show's lengthy running time, director Eric Schaeffer expertly moves this musical's story along almost as quickly as Baranski's costume changes (elaborately designed by Gregg Barnes channeling his inner Bob Mackie) and evolving glorious set designs by Walt Spangler (with one notable exception: the pastoral Connecticut setting looks like it was swiped directly off a Microsoft screen saver). The story envelopes us from the earliest moments, taking us from Mame's unusual introduction to her orphaned nephew Patrick (played by a precocious Harrison Chad) to the stock market crash, to her disastrous attempts to make ends meet during the Depression, to her romance with Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Jeff McCarthy lends a gentile warmth as this southern gentleman), to Patrick's ill-fated romance with an intolerant, smug girl who stands for everything Mame rails against.

Through it all, Mame is supported by her long-suffering friends Vera Charles (the brilliant Harriet Harris) and M. Lindsay Woolsey (the charming Ed Dixon), along with her trusted aides Ito (Alan Muraoka) and Agnes Gooch (the delightful Emily Skinner), who takes Mame's advice on living life to its fullest to a fault by letting her hair down along with her guard.

The heart and soul of this show come from Jerry Herman's beguiling score and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (the same duo responsible for writing the play Auntie Mame). Warren Carlyle's intricate choreography from one of the show's earliest moments on "It's Today" lets you know that this is going to be one heck of a ride -- Baranski, by the way, can hoof it with the best of them, and that in itself is pretty spectacular. The music and dance crescendos with the breathtaking title tune centerpiece "Mame." If the second act isn't nearly as electrifying as the first, it's because the plot turns decidedly darker with the death of Beauregard, Agnes' unplanned pregnancy and Patrick's unfortunate choice of fiance.

Yet ultimately, Mame proves a feast for the senses and anyone who wants to relive the glory of old-fashioned musical genius. More importantly, Mame is a celebration of tolerance and the most American of ideals: the pursuit of happiness. The only thing that could make me any happier is a well-deserved transfer to the Great White Way.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for ticket information (most performances are already sold-out).
Related Stories:
Mame Slightly Bruised, Not Maimed, by Critics (June 2, 2006)
Assassins Loose in Washington for Another Week (May 31, 2006)
Mame with Christine Baranski Begins Saturday at Kennedy Center (May 26, 2006)

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At 19 June, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lpthe older Patrick, as played by Max Von Essen must not have been impressive enough to merit comment?

At 20 June, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for your question. Von Essen has a pleasant enough voice and delivery, but just didn't move me quite the way his fellow actors did. If you've seen Mame, I'll be interested in your point of view.


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