Tuesday, February 19, 2008


The 5th Avenue Theatre
Ticket Info: call (206) 625-1900 or online
February 9 - March 2, 2008

The all-American classic musical from the Golden Age of Broadway is back! With big costumes, big sets, and even bigger voices, the 5th Avenue Theatre knows how to do it right.

If MAME seems a tad over-the-top at first, one must remember it is simply the nature of the beast. Broadway heavy hitter Jerry Herman first wrote the music and lyrics back in 1966, giving MAME the huge production numbers, touching ballads, and happy-go-lucky characters that keep the show floating and sparkling. Now, under musical direction from David Holcenberg and with over 40 years under its belt, MAME has certainly managed to retain both its innocence and its appeal.

The story of “Auntie Mame” and her beloved nephew is centered, as any good musical should be, on unconditional love. Throw in a few drunken parties, the Great Depression, and some uptight Connecticuters, and you’ve got a mix for Broadway gold. When Manhattan’s favorite socialite Mame Dennis is surprised one night by the arrival of her only living relative, young Patrick Dennis and his conservative caretaker, Agnes Gooch, her life is forever changed. The two take to each other like gin and dry vermouth (indeed, one of the most endearing scenes is when young Patrick mixes a martini in true Dennis fashion), and provide love and support to one another over decades of changes.

The sets (Walt Spangler) chronicle the great passage of time in the play. The impressive chandelier and classic, sprawling staircase depict Mame’s abode, while the furniture, aided by the period costumes, is imperative in portraying the era. The costumes (Gregg Barnes) are extravagant in the best way possible: colorful, flashy, and certainly a-plenty.

In a show like MAME, there is a danger of overshadowing perfectly good acting with the flamboyancy of the show. However, the actors certainly do not disappoint. Broadway veteran Dee Hoty, who exhibits her character’s determination and unstoppable drive in every scene, aptly embodies the title role. Other notable actors include the young men behind “Patrick Dennis,” Matt Owen and 12-year-old Nick Robinson. Carol Swarbrick brings spunk and wit to the role of Mame’s dearest friend, “Vera Charles.” The number “Bosom Buddies” with Hoty and Swarbrick is arguably the cleverest in the show.

Nearly everything about MAME (sets, costumes, characters) may be ostentatious, but the audience is neither shocked nor repelled. With superb direction by David Armstrong, the show embraces its own absurdity while demanding, quite rightly so, the respect of the audience. Seen in its context, MAME is everything a big-budget musical should be, and, unless one is a realist or minimalist, this show is quite a must-see.

Reviewed by: Natasha Rae

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