MAME at Light Opera Works

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman.

Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.Mame

Based on the novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis.

Stage Director: Rudy Hogenmiller.

Choreographer: Clayton Cross.

Conductor: Roger L. Bingaman.

At Cahn Auditorium, Evanston.

Mame asserts, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.”

Charm, humor and loads  of heart fuel spectacular production of Jerry Herman’s classic musical Mame.

The creatives at Light Opera Works, under the determined direction from Rudy Hogenmiller, have mounted a fabulous production of the1966 Broadway musical Mame, the show that necessitates a lady who can do comedy, act, sing and dance- a rarity in a middle aged performer. Rosalind Russell in 1957 in  the comedy Auntie Mame , Angela Lansbury in 1966 Broadway musical, Lucille Ball in 1974 in the movie version of Mame. That character is one of the most charmingly lovable, vivid and endearing characters to grace the stage. Finding all the attributes in one person is difficult leading to few productions of Mame onstage.. My best guess is that Mame was last mounted in Chicago at Marriott Theatre in 2001.

Mame Light Opera Works - 8/18/16 Photo by Mona Luan Copyright 2016 - http://www.ockenphoto.com/

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I  am happy to report that Nancy Hays, as Mame Dennis, is  a fabulous Mame. She takes her turn as this eccentric, larger than life, freewheeling bohemian  Suddenly needs to raise with her dead brother’s young son.  Without any hesitation, Auntie Mame rises to the occasion – meeting and overcoming every obstacle, from the stuffy executor, Dwight Babcock (Rick Rapp), who wants to control Dennis as a child (Zachary Scott Fewkes)  to the air-headed debutante, Gloria Upson (Amanda Childs),  who sets her cap at Dennis as an adult (Justin Adair).

Mame Light Opera Works - 8/18/16 Photo by Mona Luan Copyright 2016 - http://www.ockenphoto.com/

Along the way, she suffers financial losses, attempts and fails at a variety of jobs and ultimately rises above it all when she finds her own romance with a courtly southern plantation owner, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside  (Nick Fantl).

Nancy Hays charismatic, charming and in command of all that presents to her. She lives live to its fullest. She captures the nature of this rare soul who displays an unstinting love of her young nephew, “opening windows” of experience for him by defying convention. It is a very demanding role, as Mame is onstage in nearly every scene. Nancy Hays makes Mame hers.

Mame Light Opera Works - 8/18/16 Photo by Mona Luan Copyright 2016 - http://www.ockenphoto.com/

This vivid depiction of a flamboyant character is reinforced in all of Mame’s relationships, but nowhere more comically and effectively than in the scenes between Mame and arch rival/best friend Vera Charles (Mary Robin Roth). One of the best moments of the musical is when the two women – one clad in white, the other in slinky black, explain their love/hate relationship in the song “Bosom Buddies.”

Mame Light Opera Works - 8/18/16 Photo by Mona Luan Copyright 2016 - http://www.ockenphoto.com/

Jerry Herman’s songs and lyrics are memorable, just as pertinent and toe-tapping today as when they were written, and presented by talented singers include “It’s today,” “We Need a little Christmas,” and “If He Walked into my Life.” Clayton Cross deserves kudos for his excellent choreography. The entire cast is engaging, and especially with the “Fox Hunt Song,” where shocked onlookers watch Mame on a run-a-away horse dash past them so quickly that she out distances not only the hunt master but the fox itself.

Ten year old Zachary Scott Fewkes is terrific as the young Patrick Dennis, arriving with his solid, stolid nanny Agnes Gooch (Alicia Berneche).   With a fine voice and poise beyond his years, he nails the role. Frumpy Gooch, moving from naivety through experience, via Mame’s encouragement and makeover, is hilarious.

Mame Light Opera Works - 8/18/16 Photo by Mona Luan Copyright 2016 - http://www.ockenphoto.com/

The sets (by Adam Veness), the vivid period-perfect costumes (by Robert S. Kuhn) with the glorious sound of Jerry Herman’s varied score conducted by Roger L. Bingaman and played by 26 musicians (a rarity today!). Every young musical theatre artist need to see this show so that this generation can experience a seldom produced classical musical.  The genius of Jerry Herman together with the chops of top leads such as Nancy Hays, Mary Robin Roth and Alicia Berneche make Light Opera Works’  Mame a stunning success. Newbies to Mame will see why this is a wonderful Broadway Musical.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston, IL, call 847-920-5360, www.musictheaterworks.com, tickets from $34 on up, Sunday, August 21 at 2pm, Wednesday, August 24 at 2 pm, Thursday, August 25 at 2pm, Friday August 26  at 8 pm, Saturday, August 27 at 8 pm, Sunday, August 28 at 2pm, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission, through August 28, 2016.

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