Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee
By arrangement with Tams Witmark, produced by Katy Lipson for Aria entertainment,
Hope Mill Theatre and Ray Rackham Theatrical
Hope Mill Theatre
28 September 2019 - 9 November 2019, 2hr 25min
A celebration of a certain-age female performer, paying tribute to the mysteries and traditions of old-time, big-time, belt-it-out Broadway, style and eyelashes winning the day, Mame is all of that but also needs a comedienne with killer timing...
First on Broadway in 1966 for a four-year run, it has been revived on the Great White Way only once, unsuccessfully, and there’s been only one British production, in 1969 with Ginger Rogers. So is it wise of Hope Mill to choose it as their biggest production yet?
Mame is an eccentric, freewheeling, rich bohemian in 1930s New York, who excels at overcoming every obstacle life throws at her. When her newly-orphaned nephew arrives at her swanky Upper East Side town house, Mame vows to protect him and teach him about the world.
When the stock market crashes, Mame loses everything but her spirit; she attempts and fails at a variety of jobs; rises above it all and marries a wealthy Southern gent; is quickly widowed; writes her memoirs, and so on.
As so often in musicals, and Jerry Herman musicals in particular, it’s the book that is the main problem. It ambles along nicely in the first act then suddenly veers off course in the second, the now-adult nephew inexplicably changing character and hauling in a new set of people we couldn’t care less about – plus a pregnant secretary and much else that amount to pretty desperate padding.
Then there’s the score, or lack of it. It isn’t Herman’s best (how many of his musicals do we also say that about?) but it is a typical, occasionally toe-tapping, concoction and does have the one big song, the title number, which you will irritatingly have difficulty getting out of your head for days afterwards. It is hammered and hammered home here, as it is absolutely designed to be, as the first act finale.
I love Hope Mill, I’m in awe at what they have achieved. I’ve seen some great stuff there and again they have thrown pretty much everything at Mame. It’s a big company and as well as multiple Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett in the title role, there’s the luxury casting of Tim Flavin in the quite minor part of Mame’s short-lived husband, and Harriet Thorpe as Mame’s best friend – both excellent. But there’s strength in the cast right down the line.
And then there’s Ms Bennett. I’ve seen her do some great things. She was virtually resident in Manchester at the Library and Forum back in the 1980s and I saw her last year at the National in Follies, in which she was wonderful.
But this isn’t Ms Bennett at her best – except for one Sondheim-like number right near the end, in which she opens her heart and lets rip with show-stopping, pent-up emotion. She is brilliant we all know, but she isn’t naturally kooky and hilarious.
I have to say however that virtually everyone around me clearly thought otherwise. There were a couple of American ladies behind who thought they were on Broadway, and the rest of the house too went pretty wild. It’s not expensive to find out who you agree with.