By Mike Hoban
“Mame,” – Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins; Scenic Design by Katheryn Monthei; Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg; Costume Design by Tyler Kinney, Music Direction by Matthew Stern; Sound Design by John Stone. Presented by the Stoneham Theatre at 395 Main St, Stoneham through December 23rd.
Take a couple of powerhouse musical actresses (Kathy St. George in the title role and Mary Callanan as her boozy diva sidekick), throw in a supporting cast loaded with local and Boston favorites (Margaret Ann Brady, Ceit Zweil, Robert Saoud, and Will McGarrahan as well as musical comedy rising star Katie Anne Clark), and put them in the hands of awarding-winning director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins, and what do you get? A solid (if unspectacular) re-working of a classic Broadway show that sent the sold out crowd into the chilly night air with smiles on their faces. With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (who also did “Hello Dolly” and “La Cage aux Folles”) and a compelling (and very funny) book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Stoneham Theatre’s presentation of “Mame” hits all the right notes.
“Mame” tells the story of Mame Dennis, a well-off New York City bohemian who runs with an eclectic crew of intellectuals and artists from the Algonquin Table, whose philosophy is “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.” She has her party time interrupted when her 10 year-old nephew Patrick (Cameron Levesque) comes to live with her (along with his prudish nanny Agnes Gooch, ably played by Zweil) following her brother’s death. While she is pressured to bring up the boy in a proper, conservative lifestyle by appointed trustee Dwight Babcock (an appropriately rigid Sean McGuirk), Mame instead introduces him to a less inhibited way of living, including teaching him how to make a proper dry martini (which he unwittingly serves to Babcock in one of the evening’s funniest scenes). Mame’s best friend is Vera Charles (Callanan), a Broadway actress who, when not wowing audiences, is recovering from hangovers from Mame’s wild soirees.
Things get a little serious when Babcock gets his way and the child is enrolled at a boarding school (St. Boniface) in stodgy old Massachusetts, and then the Great Depression hits, ruining Mame and most of America. But Mame’s fortune soon turns when she meets the love of her life, southern gentleman Beauregard Jackson Picket Burnside (the weirdly charming McGarrahan), owner of the amusingly dubbed Peckerwood Plantation. His family is at first hostile to the northerner, but she wins them over with her plucky charm, culminating in a surprisingly subdued version of the title song by the entire cast. But her love life causes Mame to lose track of Patrick’s formative years, and much of the story in Act II concerns whether he will remain a bohemian at heart or marry into a stick-in-the-mud, ultra-conservative family.
St. George is well cast as the energetic and charismatic Mame, and the same can be said of Callanan, her brassy drinking partner. The two are at their best in the “Bosom Buddies” duet, a diss-filled ode to true friendship, and the pair work well together. St. George also delivers a terrific rendition of the show’s other hit, “If He Walked Into My Life”, and beautifully teams with Levesque (in a terrific turn as young Patrick) in the touching number “My Best Girl”. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, with Zweil’s performance of “Gooch’s Song” one of the evening’s highlights.
The only downside to the production is the show itself. For starters, the material is a little dated, as Mame’s supposedly wild lifestyle is actually pretty tame (minus the heavy drinking) by today’s standards. Some of the social stigmas seem archaic (like single motherhood), and the all too real anti-Semitic feelings on the part of the conservative society aren’t spelled out very well (how many in the audience under 60 knew that the term “restricted” once meant, “No Jews Allowed” ?). The score, while solidly crafted, has few great numbers, and the choreography isn’t particularly imaginative given the pedigree of director/choreographer and the talented cast. These are minor quibbles with the show, and Stoneham’s production of “Mame” delivers a pretty entertaining diversion from the steady stream of the usual holiday fare (although there’s a cute version of “We Need a Little Christmas” early on) that the audience clearly loved. For more info, go to: https://www.stonehamtheatre.org/