‘Mame’ resurrects America’s favorite madcap aunt

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By Bob Evans

As Auntie Mame proclaims in novel, play and musical, “Life’s a banquet.” To Auntie Mame, every day is a holiday; and she believes one should live life to the fullest, find happiness in each new adventure, challenge your limits, experience new learning, and love with all your heart.

The charming story by Patrick Dennis tells of his life with his eccentric aunt after the death of his father. Patrick is left as the charge of his only living relative, Mame Dennis, whom he finds unconventional–to say the least. Patrick becomes the newest and most exciting adventure in Mame’s life as she begins to school him, educate him, and expand his mind from the conservative life he knew to become a well-rounded, free thinking, well educated person who sees life as a daily adventure.

Patrick and his nanny, Agnes Gooch meet Auntie Mame at one of her famous cocktail parties. As Agnes later says, “She’s had 13 cocktail parties in 14 days…She cancelled one because the bootlegger was sick.” Such sets the stage for Mame’s message: Live, live, live. As the story progresses, the mantra of “live, live, live” evolves into a love story of “love, love, love” which is the second message of “Mame.”

Jerry Herman’s score, accompanies the story in probably Herman’s best overall score of a musical. Mame’s entrance “It’s Today” sets the tone for the balance of the story. Herman’s score includes: “Open a New Window,” “Mame,”“My Best Girl,” “Bosom Buddies,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” and the most famous “If He Walked into My Life,.” The original novel, Auntie Mame was written by Patrick Dennis, and later adapted as a play by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee (who also wrote the dramatic “Inherit the Wind”).

The novel encompasses changing times in America because it begins in the Roaring 20s, specifically 1928, continues through The Great Depression and continues to circa 1946. The musical adaptation concludes before WWII. But, in the time span, viewers learn more and more that Auntie Mame’s philosophy and life-lessons never change. In every situation, Mame wins. Mame is the ultimate winner. She’s brash, educated, head-strong, manipulative, and the most devoted family a person could want.

Attend this seldom produced musical comedy and fall in love with Mame Dennis. A sparkling cast brings this seldom seen classic to life. A creative design by directors Seth McClintock and David Shook present “Mame” in-the-round, giving movement to the piece which is a great change and helps the show continue to move with a small cast. The show generally features a huge cast with lots of splashy choreographed dance numbers. To make up for that, this format works very well.

Standout performances in “Mame” are Stasha Case whose timing and comedic delivery carries the show. Without a strong Mame, the show dims. Case’s strong performance gives her co-stars a character to interact and play off. Annette Cook as Mame’s best friend, Vera Charles fits her character like a well-made glove. Her dead pan delivery of lines and Vera’s acid-tonged remarks make audiences laugh whenever she’s on stage. Elaina Smith as Agnes Gooch, Patrick’s nanny/Mame’s secretary possesses a beautiful soprano voice and her “new-life-experience” gives a lot of laughs toward the end of the show. And, what would Auntie Mame be without her nephew Patrick? Two actors share the role as young and adult

Patrick Dennis. Both Drew Squire and Alec Bridges charm their way through the show with great vocals and line delivery. As each show must have a villain, Mr. Babcock, played by Rod Chapin, serves as a strong villain and adversary to Mame. Chapin’s clashes with Mame make him a memorable piece of the show as he challenges Mame’s eccentricities with his demand for a conservative-minded education for Patrick.

“Mame” is fun-filled entertainment. It’s a show focused on relationships and uncompromising love. The feel-good show takes you on a joyride that leaves the audience smiling and humming its tuneful score. Sadly, the show only performs Nov. 1-4 in the Lodge at Ironwoods in Leawood.

The cast is: Stasha Case as Mame Dennis, Drew Squire as young Patrick, Alec Bridges as Patrick, Annette Cook as Vera Charles, Elaina Smith as Agnes Gooch, James Azeltine as Beauregard Jackson Picket Burnside/Mr. Upson, Bill Bergman as Lindsay Woolsey, Frosty White as Louie, Rod chapin as Dwight Babcock, Mother Burnside/Mrs. Upson, Debbie Blinn, Valerie Knott as Gloria Upson, Susan Neu as Beverly Devine/Stage Manager, Matt Runnells as Uncle Jeff/Leading Man/Bishop, Breanna Danielle Swatzel as Madame Branislowski//Sally Cato, Drew Jones Junior Babcock/featured dancer Trudy Hurley as Cousin Fan, Zoe Lepper as Pegeen Riley/Dance Teacher, Camille Breckenridgs as Artist Model/Messenger, Noah Bridges as Peter Dennis/Elevator Boy, Madison Bragg as Featured Dancer, Ryan Stevens as Artist/Featured Dancer; Ensemble: Michael Blinn, Frankin Reitz, Willa Walberg.

The Creative Team is: Directors: Seth McClintock & David Shook, directors, David Shook, vocal music director; Mindy Moritz, choreographer; Susan Mitchell, accompanist; Kenneth Tysick, conductor; Kenneth Tysick, conductor; Ken Tysick, assistant conductor; Dave Powell, technical director; Caroline Jackson, stage manager; Mary Shook, props; Kyle Wood, sound design; Philip Leonard, lighting design; Mary Williams, wardrobe assistant; Annette Cook, costumer; April Bishop, producer.

Special kudos go to Annette Cook as costumer for the show. For this production, Mame changed costumes 19 times–all depicting Mame’s changing life-expansion and experiences. As for the balance of the cast, the costumes were bright, glitzy, and outstandingly selected to match each scene. Choreography also stands out with Mindy Moritz added attention to paring down a huge dance number to fit the confines of Leawood Lodge.

Jerry Herman’s score, bold, brassy, fast requires some special talents. The score is difficult and intricate. Leawood Stage’s orchestra for this production matched the needs of the music perfomance necessary to produce “Mame.” The “Mame” Orchestra: Conductor, Kenneth Tysick; Assistant Conductor, Ken Tysick; Jim Vinkenberg – Flute/Alto/Clarinet; Amanda Personett – Tenor/Soprano; Amy Schwartz – Oboe/English Horn; Kathleen Crilley – Cello; Liz Karre – Bass, Lisa Watkins – Harp; Michael Marsh – Trumpet 1; Jacob Kingsley – Trumpet 2; Ken Tysick – Trombone 1; Dave Lovetere – Trombone 2; Larry Miller – Synthesizer; Keyboard – Susan Mitchell; Johnny Tracy- Percussion.

Performance dates for “Mame”: Thursday, November 1, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, November 2, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, November 3, 5:59 p.m. with benefit reception until 7 p.m. (special pricing applies); Saturday, November 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m.

Tags:  Mame, Leawood Stage Company, Ironwoods Lodge, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Leawood Stage , Leawood Stage Company/Ironwood Lo, Leawood Stage Company/Ironwood Lodge and Bob Evans | KC Applauds

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