The Human Race Theatre Company’s warmly intimate production of Jerry Herman, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s endearing and splendidly tuneful 1966 musical “Mame” has a lot of heart but lacks pizzazz at its core.
Based on Lawrence and Lee’s 1956 play “Auntie Mame,” adapted from Patrick Dennis’ 1955 novel of the same name, “Mame” chronicles nearly 20 years in the life of Mame Dennis, a lively, eccentric socialite who throws lavish soirees in her posh Beekman Place apartment no matter the occasion. In 1928, Mame’s unrestrained, attention-seeking existence quickly changes when she becomes the guardian of her timid, sheltered 10-year-old nephew Patrick. As Mame energetically shows Patrick just how eye-opening life can be within colorful Manhattan, an education thriving in the unconventional sense, their tender, loving bond grows stronger even as the ensuing years bring its share of hardships, sorrow, misunderstanding, and disappointment.
As the flashy, larger-than-life Mame, one of the juiciest roles in the musical theater canon, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, previously known at the Human Race for roles in “Macbeth” and “Torch Song Trilogy,” adopts a gentler, subdued and mildly coy approach that feels off-kilter to the jubilant spirit of the brassy material. Mame is fashioned to be an earthy, outspoken and flamboyant center of the universe, but Goldsmith embodies the role as a woman second guessing her extravagant flair rather than a woman completely confident in her own skin. As so, her musical numbers, intended to illuminate Mame’s vivacious electricity, are short on vim and verve. The cheerful vigor and excitement pulsating throughout Herman’s dandy score (“It’s Today,” “Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “That’s How Young I Feel”) just doesn’t credibly land in her hands which deflates momentum despite assistance from the vocally strong ensemble. Even Mame’s signature torch song “If He Walked Into My Life” startlingly comes and goes as if its mere filler rather than the full-throttle, show-stopping epiphany it was written to be. Goldsmith, stunning in costumer Christie Peitzmeier’s stylish outfits, is comfortable in the book scenes that allow her ample time to mold the nuances of her characterization opposite the earnestly sweet Peanut Edmonson as young Patrick, but her musical numbers, the lifeblood of the show, are not equally assured.
Still, there is consistent, grounded work elsewhere under the fluidly fast-paced and atmospheric direction of producing artistic director Kevin Moore, who astutely conceptualizes the show as a portal into Patrick’s memory and effortlessly scales down its traditionally large framework to incorporate a 20-member cast. Leslie Goddard is outstanding as goofy secretary Agnes Gooch, particularly as Agnes attempts to embrace life to the fullest with great consequence. Torie Wiggins, in a refreshing dose of non-traditional casting, is a real comedic find as prominent theater actress Vera Charles, Mame’s boozy best friend. Jamie Cordes is the epitome of a true Southern gentleman as the wealthy Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, Mame’s husband. Zack Steele supplies charisma and conviction as the adult Patrick although he struggles vocally in his upper register. Annie Pesch (Ito), Scott Stoney (Dwight Babcock), Robb Willoughby (M. Lindsay Woolsey), Marya Spring (Sally Cato), Sherri L. Sutter (Mother Burnside), Sarah Naughton (Gloria Upson), Darrin Murrell (Mr. Upson), Layan Elwazani (Pegeen Ryan), Shavey Brown (Ralph Devine), Cooper Taggard (Gregor), and Michael McCrary (Junior Babcock) solidly perform in flavorful featured roles. Fierce, attractive couple Sarah Agar and Adam Soniak, attacking Katie Johannigman’s sharp choreography as if auditioning to become a part of next season’s “Dancing with the Stars” troupe, exhibit dazzling finesse as a pair of steamy ballroom dancers in “Open a New Window.”
Additionally, Dick Block’s terrific set features a revolving layout for Mame’s apartment as well as large, colorful postcard backdrops. John Rensel’s expert lighting heightens various locales from the coziness of Mame’s bedroom to the Shubert Theater stage in New Haven, Connecticut. Musical director John Faas, a Herman aficionado, leads a well-balanced and peppy seven-member off-stage orchestra.
Captivating joy has always been a primary component to the success of Herman’s most beloved musicals. Whether it’s a matchmaker descending a staircase to the delight of admiring waiters or the euphoric empowerment shared between drag queens, Herman’s sunny, feel-good repertoire absolutely uplifts the spirit. In order for the inherent joy within “Mame” to shine with credible magnetism this production needs to dig deeper.
“Mame” continues through Nov. 23 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday and Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $40-$50. Prices vary depending on performance date. Discounts are also available. Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org
DMM Ticket Giveaway
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Thanks to all who entered! Congrats to Doug Kershner, Renee Reed and Diane Carter, our ticket winners!