Mame | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Mame 

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MAME, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, and MAME, Stage Right Dinner Theatre, at Giorgio's Banquets. This 1966 musical version of Auntie Mame--Evanston-bred Patrick Dennis's tale of a madcap socialite who gives her orphaned nephew an unconventional upbringing in defiance of bourgeois Babbittry--isn't often produced nowadays, with good reason. Writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee dilute the screwball satire of their 1956 Broadway adaptation and its classic screen version--not to mention Dennis's hilarious novel--in order to accommodate production numbers demanding a much bigger chorus and orchestra than you're likely to find at cost-conscious regional theaters. And Jerry Herman's score, though clever and bubbly, falls short of his brilliant work in Hello, Dolly!

Dominic Missimi's Marriott staging brings together three Chicago dinner-theater divas, but any hoped-for chemistry fails to develop. Hollis Resnik's Mame substitutes mannered archness for wacky sophistication--when she's not indulging in sentimental excess, as she does in the ballad "If He Walked Into My Life." Paula Scrofano is enjoyable as Mame's mousy secretary Gooch, who becomes a scarlet woman trying to fulfill Mame's dictum to "live, live, live." But Alene Robertson as Vera Charles, Mame's haughty, hard-drinking "bosom buddy," comes off as a sodden sourpuss, robbing their bitchy banter of any playfulness. The company kick-steps and cakewalks ably through Marc Robin's high-energy choreography. But Marriott's in-the-round stage prevents designer Thomas M. Ryan from depicting Mame's lavish town house, with its grand stairway tailor-made for eye-popping entrances. Doing Mame without a staircase is like doing The Diary of Anne Frank without an attic.

Stage Right Dinner Theatre's non-Equity rendition, directed by Frank Roberts and choreographed by Brenda Didier, lacks Marriott's polish but comes closer to capturing Dennis's extravagant silliness. Jody Goldman is too old to play Mame and lacks Resnik's bravura belt, but she has more goofy fun with the role; she's well complemented by Christine Cloutier's Gooch and even better by Caron Leigh's cunning, campy Vera. The small but spirited ensemble conveys an infectious enjoyment lacking in Marriott's more skilled chorus, Roberts's visibly low-budget set at least has a staircase, and in the crucial role of Mame's ten-year-old nephew, Kevin Winters is a refreshing antidote to Marriott's cloying Tommy Hansfield.

--Albert Williams

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