City Center Encores! Mack & Mabel
by Jeanne Lieberman and David Schultz
and Mabel are back in town!
a long time since they fled Broadway in 1974 (after 66
performances and 6 previews).
Since then they knocked around the UK in concerts and
prestigious playhouses to more appreciative fans.
In fact British ice-skating team Torvill and Dean won the gold medal for
ice dance in the World Figure Skating Championships in
1982, performing to the Mack & Mabel overture.
Composer Jerry Herman long dreamed of fixing his troubled
"problem child" and bringing it back to Broadway.
He died this year before his dream was realized. And yes, they
did get back but not quite to Broadway, just a half block away, in a rousing
endearing production at the City Centers Encores! series for flawed but flavorful
old time musicals.
rejected the dark second act:
2013 they tiptoed back to the US in a concert version in California but it was
Jerry Herman‘s dream to work on it until it was Broadway ready for its come
back. Francine Pascal, original book writer Michael Stewart’s
sister, has created a newly revised version for this production.
Mac & Mabel starts sunny and joyful at first, then, with its various shades
of grey in the Second Act, the darker aspects of this tale emerge. But this
variation in tone is heartbreakingly true, albeit a melancholy bittersweet
sadness permeates the remainder of the evening.
in 1974 were not expecting such a 360 degree turn in tone from the cheerful,
sunny musicals by Mr. Herman. The gorgeous melodic numbers swerve into a more
introspective aspect of the story at hand.
then there have been many "Musical Tragedies" replacing the musical
comedy expectations of the public with great success.
Mack and Mabel was
ahead of its time.
nowadays can and would no doubt embrace the concept of the duality of the
fact the show's second act commonly, deemed as problematic, includes some of
Herman's best songs: "Time heals Everything" and "Tap Your
is the show called bi polar (schizophrenic)?
The plot of the musical involves the tumultuous romantic relationship between
Hollywood director Mac Sennett and Mabel Normand (transformed from an artist's
model to a waitress from Flatbush, Brooklyn for the musical) who became one of
his biggest stars.
In a fluid series of flashbacks, Sennett relates the glory days of
Keystone Studios from 1911, when he discovered Mabel Normand and cast her in
dozens of his early "two-reelers" through his creation of Sennett's
Bathing Beauties and Keystone Cops to Mabel's tragic death from tuberculossis
in 1930. Her addiction to pills and drugs exacerbated her downfall. This
musical looks fondly back at a more innocent time, without ignoring the darker
aspects of those early days of filmmaking.
The gorgeous score by Mr. Herman works brilliantly as a
counterpoint to the happy, madcap, melancholy underpinnings of the tale.
show goes from sunny to sad
the First Act Mack Sennett and Mabel first met, worked together and
fell in love. He made her a big star of the silent movies.
act things fell apart and they went separate ways.
DID reconnect briefly in the end.
sad ending gave it dramatic heft so common in later day musicals
one British production put in a happy ending) The bittersweet drama of Act II
gave it more dimension and substance.
criticism is that the book, especially the revised one,
full of cliches, but the subject of the show is silent movies which were all
about cliches. The language
of silents were clichés
Robert Preston talked rather than sang his songs many years before Rex Harrison
perfected it in My Fair Lady,
by comparison Douglas Sills seemed to be forcing it. Even the
tender love song "I Won't Send Roses" was delivered full
Socha appears to have channeled her predecessor Bernadette Peters in her letter
perfect embodiment of the role.
Lottie, the show's second banana, Lilli Cooper, Chuck Cooper's daughter, while
admittedly not a dancer, did an admiral job tapping.
Kasprzak was outstanding as the lovelorn writer who aspired to help Mabel
through the years.
keeping with the minimalist concept of Encores! scenic designer Allen Moyer
utilized his limited budget creatively employing a flight of stairs to indicate
parts of the theater, and later a ramp up the cruise ship that Mabel
by Amy Clark
were spot on, even to the tightly coiffed finger waved (uncredited) wigs.
Josh Rhodes' chorography delivered the best qualities we have come to expect in the golden
age of musicals…. before sneakers replaced heels and gym worthy aggression
leveled the sexes.
Mack Sennett signature Keystone Cops sequence was lifted from former Encores
production Hey, Look Me Over
and the bathing beauties' creative use of beach balls also doubled
as scene changer.
superb Encores! orchestra, under the experienced baton of music director Rob
Berman bathed the house in the vivid score.
a fitting tribute to the show's creator three panels, suspended from overhead,
dropped down to commemorate Jerry Herman and drew applause from the theater
touching reflective finale unspools a variety of comic reproductions of The
Sennett magic onto a film screen in the rear of the theater. This fitting
finale shows the ineffable magic of those early days at the dawn of slapstick
cinema. The magical scratchy grainy films are shown in mini snippets showing
Mabel Normand in high comic relief that make one laugh at first, then finally
grasp the behind the scenes internal drama and pain that produced an endearing
Mack & Mabel truly deserves to be fully mounted yet again on Broadway. This
time it very well may become the fully-fledged classic that eluded Jerry Herman
in his lifetime.