San Diego, CA.—Jerry Herman’s Mame is one of those oldies but goodies that hasn’t been around the San Diego musical theatre scene for over thirty years. With book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play Auntie Mame Herman’s familiar music (Hello Dolly andLa Cage aux Folles)) falls right into place at the North Park Birch theatre and continues through Oct. 2nd.
The novel, an instant best seller, was soon adapted as a stage play and the original Broadway production that starred Rosalind Russell, Robert Allen and Peggy Cass was nominated for Tony Awards in 1957 with Cass running away with the sole trophy from that show.
I don’t know where I was or when it happened, but I was privileged enough to have seen Cass in a production of the show. I will never forget her performance as Miss Gooch, who plays young Patrick’s nanny who along with Patrick is placed in the care of his aunt and only known living relative, Mame Dennis. When they arrive at her posh New York apartment to stay after the death of his parents all hell breaks loose.
While the show is a hilarious romp of the comings and goings of young Patrick’s Bohemian Aunt and her cohorts it is also a reflection of an era (1928) of opulence just before and during the Great Depression of 1929 and its effects and of the special bond created between aunt and nephew.
With the stunning and talented Andrea Huber as ‘Auntie Mame’, Leigh Scarritt as her ‘I can’t stand kids’ always with a drink in hand friend Vera and San Diego favorite Eileen Bowman as the forever Miss Gooch, this production has wings and takes off from the beginning. It doesn’t hurt either to have the charming young Jonas McMullen as young Patrick and the handsome and equally charming Scott Gregory as Mame’s love interest Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside and with tongue in cheek Joseph Grienenberger, in drag, as Beauregard’s mother, Mother Burnside.
From the looks of this production as directed by J. Sherwood Montgomery no expense is spared. Pam Stompoly –Ericson’s costumes are extravagant and posh looking period pieces and worn to perfection by all in the cast particularly Huber and Scarritt. Jimmy Cuomo’s set design is art deco delicious; Shirley Johnston’s choreography shows off everything from The Lindy Hop, Black Bottom to Charleston (love those flapper costumes) and swing and Justin Smiley’s lighting is perfect. Conductor Leon Natker leads the orchestra through some of Herman’s favorites and most recognizable: “My Best Girl”, “We Need a Little Christmas”, “If He Walked Into My Life”, and of course the big production number, “Mame”.
The ensemble of no less than twenty seven or so is at ease with the story, escapades and unconventional happenings as they unfold with all the hoopla and excitement needed to convince that Mame is after all, just being Mame. As the namesake of this show, Huber is terrific at being Mame.
She moves about Cuomo’s two tiered set with staircases on either side with confidence as she makes her entrances with aplomb. Her repartee with her ‘best friend” and theatrical diva Vera, is classic cat scratching fun and both Huber and Scarritt are up to the task. She also does just fine, thank you, in pushing back the stiff necked Babcock (Alan Alpert is appropriately stuffy), who is in charge of young Dennis’ fortune and who wants Patrick to live a more conventional life than the one he is living with his aunt.
With all the setbacks including the depression, lost fortune and job losses, Mame keeps her optimism and manages to rescue the now older and more conventional thinking Patrick (Anthony Whitson-Martini) from the excesses of the twenties and from making the mistake of marrying the wrong (empty headed) woman whose family would have been the first to stop Mame from living next door to them in the upper, more segregated and bigoted community somewhere in the northeast.
Mame is fun to watch and to be a part of. Each of us will take home whatever lessons there are to be learned from, of course the inimitable Mame!
A visit to the Birch Theatre in North Park is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening with this lively and ageless Mame. I highly recommend it.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Sept. 29, 30, Oct. 1, 2
Organization: Lyric at the Birch
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2891 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$52.00
Venue: North Park Birch Theatre