NEXT UP: "HAMLET: THE BAD QUARTO" AT FOLGER THEATRE AUGUST 6!
And so, we head into our final performances of "Mame." What a trip it has been! I want to express my gratitude to Goodspeed for bringing me back into the fold for my third production here in as many seasons. What an honor! "Mame" has been a jazzy, glittering, hilarious romp and I have great admiration for all my fellow actors and the many hardworking people who make things tick here at this jewel of a theatre. I have made a few new incredible friends and have had the pleasure of watching our leading lady, Louise Pitre, live out a dream in playing Auntie Mame. Her discipline and drive have been a marvel, never missing a performance and performing this marathon role, complete with 17 costume changes, all of them quick, with enthusiasm and energy. Brava!
A post-mortem on this production is premature, but I thought I might reflect a little on what I have learned about this classic show by doing it, and offer some acerbic commentary, just for fun. After all, it's my blog!
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT "MAME:"
- Lindsay Woolsey is in the show in order that he might AGE. The play spans nearly two decades and Patrick goes from being a 10 year old to being a father himself. No female star 'of a certain age' in their right mind will "age up" in a glamorous musical... so Lindsay has the honor of-- according to the stage directions-- "greying nicely."He is present when the news of the great stock market crash comes, but Vera brings that news and Lindsay only underscores it by confirming it.He comes up with the idea of Mame writing her memoirs and convinces her to do it, but this serves only one purpose in the musical: to give Agnes Gooch a reason for being there in Act Two. Since the original play's characters of Nora Muldoon, Patrick's nanny, and Gooch, Mame's secretary, are conflated in the musical, once Patrick is in college Gooch has to transition from nanny to secretary. The memoirs are the way to do that, and since Lindsay is a publisher it is assigned to him to give Mame the idea. But it's a red herring. Once Gooch comes back pregnant, the entire plot line of the memoirs is dropped; in the original play, Lindsay brings the galleys of Mame's book to the final party with the Upsons and it is remembering all the stories of their times together that finally turns Patrick away from the Upsons and back to Mame. In the musical this doesn't happen.This is not to completely denigrate the importance of the character since he does perform a couple functions, but on the whole, Lindsay is sort of the kind of small principal role that an old fashioned musical with an enormous cast could afford to have around back in 1966, on a Broadway principal contract. To any producers out there who might be considering a Broadway revival of the show: I am available, greying hair and all, to return to the role at your convenience!
- I would be remiss if I did not goof on one of the oddest things about my job in this show. In my second scene, Mame and I come in to Beekman Place laughing, having enjoyed a full day of shopping in Manhattan together. In rehearsal, I was given a single box to carry in, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. I figured, well, this is a place marker-- a prop to use for rehearsal purposes until we get the real packages that would look like a shopping spree in New York (maybe bags from Bendel's or Bergdorf's). When we got to the theatre, there was that brown box tied with twine. One can't quite imagine what's in that box but nevertheless, my job at the start of that scene is to stand center stage for about 4 minutes holding that box, while Mame and Babcock argue over Patrick's schooling. It is one of the oddest things I have ever done on stage. And that's saying a lot!!
- It will never be revealed what the 'M' stands for at the front of M. Lindsay Woolsey's name. After asking many their opinion of what it might be, Judy Blazer won hands down for best answer. She thinks Lindsay is really a nice Jewish boy and his first name is "Moishe."
- I always wondered why the scores of Jerry Herman shows are set so incredibly high in the voices of the ensemble. In a Herman show, baritones sing tenor notes, tenors sing alto, altos sing soprano. When legendary music director/conductor Donald Pippin gave a talk recently at Goodspeed he told us that in his singing choruses for the shows he worked on with Herman, he had a mezzo who could sing incredibly high notes and he always incorporated these into his arrangements. Thus the final note of the "Mame" number in the soprano part (magnificently nailed by MJ McConnell in our production) is a C sharp.
- While the score of "Mame" is chock full of wonderful songs, it's not my favorite Herman score. Nor is "La Cage," even though I have done the show three times and have a deep affection for it. I feel "Hello, Dolly!" is Herman's best-- most stylistically cohesive, most expressive of, and true to, the source material the show came from, and full of variety. Of course this is like comparing one priceless, many faceted diamond to another.
- There is one glaring anachronism in the script. It's 1929 and Mame's lost her money in the Crash. She meets Beau and refers to him as reminding her of Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind." That book wasn't written until 1936.
- If you do a kickline, even if the kicks are not even waist high, the audience will applaud. The Rockettes are working far too hard in my opinion.
- Agnes Gooch is the long lost cousin of those two nameless gangsters in "Kiss Me, Kate." They all come in in Act Two and completely steal the show with one musical number, after the leads have been working their tushies off the whole evening. Even Mame's 11th hour torch song, "If He Walked Into My Life," cannot extinguish the impact of "Gooch's Song."
- As for that famous torch song, I have decided that, as beautiful a song as it is, "If He Walked Into My Life" is rather uncomfortably wedged into the show. It's a fact that Herman wrote MAME with Judy Garland in mind-- and if you listen to the score you can hear how perfectly tailored it is to Judy's special gifts. One of her gifts was singing heart rending ballads and of course there has to be one at the eleventh hour spot in the show. But the character of Auntie Mame, in the original book and in the play, is not a torch singer. She takes disappointments in stride, she doesn't dwell on them, she makes lemonade. Her conflict with Patrick in Act Two of the musical is rather uncomfortably skewed to set up the singing of this blood and guts song of regret and self doubt. But it's not in keeping with the character as we have come to know her. It also doesn't really set up what Mame does next--which is to sabotage Patrick's engagement. If she were that terrified of losing him, she'd suck it up and let him marry Gloria. I feel somewhat the same about Albin's big anthem, "I Am What I Am" in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Having played the role, it is a big challenge to go from the vainglorious camp queen Albin is to the defiant, political creature who stands up for his individuality at the end of Act One. But it can be done. It's just tricky.
- While it is undisputed that Rosalind Russell will forever be identified with the role of Mame, she is not the only one from the 1958 film whose impact will forever be felt on any version of the Auntie Mame story. Joanna Barnes, who brilliantly played the stiff jawed Gloria Upson, has left an indelible imprint on the character which audience members, especially of a certain age, can never forget. During performances of "Mame," when Patrick first announces her name, the audience is already buzzing in anticipation of seeing Gloria and hearing that first drawled "I can't TELL you how pleased I am to make your acquaintance!".
- And finally, and this is something I have always known about the Auntie Mame story: as nutty as it is, as full of mischief and outrageous antics, the story is about love and about family. It's a story of people making the absolute best out of life by loving each other. This is why it will continue to be done and enjoyed by audiences for decades to come.