It has been a long time since Chicago area theater audiences have been treated to a full production of “Mame”, the musical version of Patrick Dennis’ novel and the Lawrence and Lee play, “Auntie Mame” (also based on the book by Mr. Dennis). I was trying to think back to just when one of our theaters brought this to life. I think it may have been Marriott, but leave it to Light Opera Works, in its last season under that banner (they will be changing the name to Music Theater Works in 2017) to put a very special production on its stage at Cahn Auditorium on the campus of Northwestern University, in Evanston. “Mame” with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee ( a different Robert E. Lee, of course) was a Broadway hit that brought Angela Lansbury to new heights back in the 60’s. The original play, “Auntie Mame” was also a movie with the glorious Rosalind Russell bringing the actual character to life. The movie version of the hit musical starred Lucille Ball and did not have the pizzaz that this character must have.
The stage version that is now being presented by Light Opera Works has it all! Directed to perfection by Rudy Hogenmiller, with very slick choreography by Clayton Cross on an amazing set designed by Adam Veness, this is a production that will have you not caring that the production is very close to three hours long. The ensemble is so solid in every move that the time just moves along. I heard a number of opening night patrons say to others that they must have a problem with their watch. How could act one end at 9:30? The play started on time at 8 p.m.! Yes, act one is 90 fantastic minutes of memories and story-telling.
For those of you who do not know the story, it is about Mame Dennis, a socialite during the roaring twenties, who appears to have the life everyone would want to live. Her brother passes away leaving her to take care of her nephew, Patrick (this was a real person, by the way, but I think it took place other than in New York) who comes with his nanny to start a new life with “Auntie Mame” No matter what happens to this woman, she keeps on going and builds a relationship with her nephew that is one filled with love and mutual admiration, even though at times it appears that they are headed in different directions. It is a play filled with hope and love and one that is also filled with some great musical numbers.
To pull off this show, one must have a strong female lead. “Mame” is played by Nancy Hays who has enough personality to fill a room of nerds and a voice that is larger than life. WOW! Think of some of the Herman songs; “”It’s Today”, “Bosom Buddies” ( sung with Mary Robin Roth who plays a powerhouse Vera Charles, Mame’s best friend), “My Best Girl” ( sung by both Patrick’s /age 10 the adorable Zachary Scott Fewkes and age 19 up, Justin Adair), “We Need A Little Christmas”, “Mame” and many more. You will leave the theater humming or singing one of these songs-guaranteed!
There are no holes in this amazing cast. Alicia Berneche shows off her range taking on the comic role of Agnes Gooch, Ito (Mame’s butler/housekeeper) a strong Alexander Wu, Rick Rapp as the lawyer who tries to turn Mame’s life around and some very good work by Jody Goldman in several roles. Nic Fanti plays Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, the man who changes Mame’s life and future, and young Casey Lyons does a short and sweet Peter Dennis, the youngster who gives Mame another chance at being the best Aunt ever!
The technical parts of the production were a bit off in the beginning, at least the sound portion, but they cleared up the problem by the second scene so hats off to Aaron Quick for remedying the problem “quickly”. Robert S. Kuhn’s costumes were brilliant and as good as any Broadway touring company would have offered. The lighting by Andrew H. Meyers was sheer perfection and as I said earlier the sets were very professional. As always, Light Opera Works assembles a full orchestra so the music is as written and the orchestra is conducted by Roger L. Bingaman. This is a real treat and one of the reasons that Light Opera Works has an amazing following. The only problem to one of their productions is the limited run they can offer.
“Mame” will play at Cahn Auditorium located at 600 Emerson Street in Evanston through August 28th (YES ONLY THRU the 28th)
Sunday, August 21st 2 p.m.
Wednesday, August 24th 2 p.m.
Thursday, August 25th 2 p.m.
Friday, August 26th 8 p.m.
Saturday, August 27th 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 28th 2 p.m.
Tickets start at $34 (25 and under half price) and can be purchased by calling 847-920-5360 or online at www.LightOperaWorks.com