Goodspeed Opera House
By Lauren Yarger
Tony nominee Louise Pitre (MAMMA MIA) brings to life a legendary stage persona in an engaging and well staged production of the Jerry Herman musical MAME to open the Goodspeed Opera House's 2012-2013 season.
Directed by Ray Roderick, Pitre is more elegant, reserved and smaller volumed in singing voice than you might be expecting if the Mame Dennis you have in mind is the one portrayed by Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury or Lucille Ball in previous stage and film adaptations, but she brings her own charm to the character. You can't help liking the fun-loving, free spirited woman who embraces life at full force.
The story (book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee) begins before the stock market crash of 1929. Mame is New York's hostess with the mostest, throwing gay parties in her elegant apartment (James Youmans designs the set) with the help of actress friend Vera Charles (Judy Blazer) and faithful servant Ito (James Seol). Anyone who's anyone attends, including publisher M. Lindsay Woolsey (James Beaman) and Ralph Devine (Alan Gillespie), headmaster of a progressive and controversial new school in the village called The Laboratory of Life.
Her life is interrupted by the arrival of her orphan nephew, Patrick (Eli Baker), and his governess, Agnes Gooch (Kirsten Wyatt). Mame and the boy quickly bond as she exposes him to all her world has to offer, while trying to keep his more conservative, traditional trustee, Dwight Babcock (Paul Carlin) appeased.
Everything changes when Mame loses everything in the crash and Patrick is sent off to boarding school. The story continues at almost break-neck speed as Mame tries a series of failed careers then ends up oustiing belle Sally Cato (Erin Denman) for the affections of Beauregard Burnside (James Lloyd Reynolds), a Southern gentleman from a wealthy family headed by his formidable mother (Denise Lute). THey marry and travel the world.
Meanwhile, Patrick grows away from her (Charles Hagerty plays the older nephew), rooms with Babcock's son (Beau Landry) at college and embraces a less Bohemian lifestyle with socialite Gloria Upson (Kellyn Uhl). He seems embarrassed by Mame, especially when she welcomes unwed mother-to-be Agnes back into her home -- something that definitely isn't up to the moral standards of Gloria's uppity parents (Mary Jo McConnell and Eric Jon Mahlum) who want the youngsters to move next to them in a restricted community.
The tale is propelled by Herman's score (the lyrics are his too) with classics like"We Need a Little Christmas," "Open a New Window," "It's Today" and the title song performed well by an orchestra directed by Michael O'Flaherty. Vince Pesce's skillful choreography lends a lot of movement on multiple levels without the 15 or so ensemble members overwhelming the small stage. Lovely costumes by Gregg Barnes mark the changes in years and David H. Lawrence does standout work on the hair and wig design.