A 500-word review can serve only short shrift to a production of the scope of “Mame,” the razzle-dazzle play about the eponymous madcap Bohemian matriarch, playing now at Ojai ACT.
Director Brian Robert Harris has worked miracles in pulling together such an ambitious staging, comprising intricate set changes, big song-and-dance numbers, innumerable costume changes, and a narrative time-frame spanning 20 years.
The gin is flowing and free-spirited Mame, whose motto is “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death,” is living life con gusto in 1928 Greenwich Village when she suddenly becomes guardian of her late brother’s son, Patrick.
Mame (Tracey Williams Sutton) takes this in her stride with Patrick (Rhett Speer), affectionately declaring each other ‘My best girl” and “My best boy,” achieving audience-winning chemistry in the roles.
Then comes the 1929 stock market crash, the wild parties end, Patrick is shipped off to a conservative boarding-school by his father’s lawyer, (the hilariously apoplectic Bill Spellman) and Mame must earn some money.
In the course of her disastrous experiences with work, she meets and marries wealthy Southern gent Beauregard Burnside (Phil Nemy). When he dies suddenly, Mame, wealthy once more, returns to New York to find that the now grown up Patrick (Jack Evans) has become an insufferable prig who disapproves of his aunt’s lifestyle.
Patrick is engaged to vapid bubblehead, Gloria Upson, (Haley Weed) from a stuffy Massachusetts family and wants to make a good impression on them. But Patrick’s one-time mousy nanny, Agnes Gooch, has taken to heart Mame’s advice to “live, live, live!” and, as a result of all that living, has become pregnant with no husband in sight, a situation of intolerable scandal in the eyes of the buttoned-up, pearl-clutching Upsons (Ed Buckle and Suzy Thatcher.)
To watch Anna Kotula as the hapless Gooch is worth the price of the admission alone. An uproariously funny scene-stealer, her dorky, awkward Agnes left the delighted audience aching with laughter.
There are many rib-tickling performances in this production. Marilyn Lazik in a double outing as a beauty shop proprietress and a grand-dame of the South is great fun, and every one of Mame’s Greenwich Village coterie play up their eccentricities with clear relish.
Sutton’s duet “Bosom Buddies” with catty best friend Vera (a redoubtable Laura Ring) is a show stopper: two broads banging out a tune spiked with delicious little daggers of spite.)
Ezra Eels, Ojai’s own Gene Kelly, amps up the charge on the stage with acrobatic panache, playing Mame’s loyal valet, Ito. The choreography throughout is invigorating and assured, and the whole cast’s hard work is evident.
Set design and costuming are two of the biggest challenges in a fast moving, multi-setting, larger-than-life “staircase” production like this, where the staircase is central to so many grand entrances and comic moments.
Neva Williams and Kenny Dahle’s clever designs transport us around the world, and back to Mame’s glamorous apartment. Costumers Edmund Andreas and Haley Weed give us fabulous flappers, widow’s weeds, Greenwich gurus, a hilarious send-up of “The Southern Belle” and dazzle, dazzle, dazzle all the way.
Dazzle, vivacity, and fun are what make “Mame” such a well-loved play and, alongside a well-known score and live orchestration directed flawlessly by Andy Street, the cast and crew of this show deliver them in abundance.
“Mame” runs through August 9th at Ojai ACT, 113 S. Montgomery St.; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 general, $20 for seniors, students and Art Center members. Reservations at 640-8797 or www.OjaiACT.org
Hundreds of locals have already attended “MAME” at Ojai ACT, leaving the theater with its catchy tunes tickling their fancy, and as it ends this weekend (Aug. 7, 8, 9) let’s give the music men their due.
Unseen and tucked underneath the stage like phantoms of an opera sits Musical Director Andy Street on keyboards, backed up by James Antunez (drums), John Boyd (guitar) and Dan Willard (wind instruments).
All are pros and have played with Street on other Ojai ACT productions (“Grease,” “Carousel” to name just two). When it was announced that Street and his bandmates were going to do “Mame” the cast was ecstatic because they can follow any singer and enhance any song, with sounds that seem like there are more people down in that orchestra pit.
“’Mame’ has a more jazz oriented score, so it lends itself to having a typical jazz combo: piano, drums and bass,” Street explained. “It’s great to add a wind player, giving it some Dixie style inspired by the South.”
While “Mame” doesn’t have as many “famous songs” as some other Broadway musicals, Street said “it’s just genius,” thanks to Jerry Herman who wrote the music and lyrics. “It has a lot of different styles and is very clever.” Herman also did “La Cage Aux Folles,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Dear World.”
The songs range from exciting, beat-filled numbers like “It’s Today” (“Call the cops out … pull the stops out …”) to Mame’s tender love for her young nephew during a falling out, “If He Walked Into My Life” (“Was there too much of a crowd, all too lush and loud, and not enough of me …”).
And then there’s hilarity, all punched up by the Street Band: “Bosom Buddies,” in which Mame (Tracey Williams Sutton) and her friend (Laura Ring) insult each other (“Who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and level, and give you the devil … and tell you the truth…”)
Toward the end is the splendid nanny character Agnes Gooch (Anna Kotula) cracking up the audience with “Gooch’s Song” where she tries to explain what happened to her (“Although I was leery, I thrived on your theory, that life can be a wow … but what do I do now…”).
So “tune the Grand up …. Strike the band up … Hallelujah … It’s Today…” for the last weekend of “Mame,” at Ojai ACT, 113 S. Montgomery St.; Aug. 7, 8, 9 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 general, $20 for seniors, students and Art Center members. Reservations at 640-8797 or www.OjaiACT.org.