Mame says, “We need a Little Christmas Now!” (5 stars)

by Karen Kosko

 

As you busy yourselves with the hectic demands of the holidays during this tumultuous year, do set aside some time to “Haul out the Holly, for we need a little Christmas now”. Stoneham Theatre is celebrating the season with a stellar production of ‘Mame’, starring Kathy St. George as Auntie Mame Dennis, and Mary Callahan, as Mame’s on again-off again best friend, Vera Charles.

 

There is a lot to be said for the qualities embedded in friendship and loyalty, and Ilyse Robbins (Director / Choreographer) allows the character of Mame to be joyful, generous, carefree and fun loving.  Shares Robbins, “What excites me most about directing and choreographing ‘Mame’ is taking a beloved show and giving it fresh eyes, while still honoring what makes it the favorite that it is and has been for so many years. I am thrilled to bring the story of this wonderful, open, accepting woman to the stage again at a time when I think we need to be reminded that being kind is a fine and desirable trait.” 

 

The play ‘Mame’ is a witty skewering of all that was unconventional and pretentious in American life from 1929 into the 1950's and beyond.  Mame’s only sibling has died in Chicago and she is suddenly awarded custody of her estranged brother's only child, (the sheltered 10 year old Patrick,) and raises him in a whirlwind of non-conformist gatherings and social experimentation.  Conflict occurs when the gruff executor of Patrick’s father's estate, Dwight Babcock, played by Sean McGuirk, objects to the aunt's lifestyle and her choices of learning experiences.

 

Kathy St. George, as the charming and freethinking Mame, is full of madcap energy as she shares her bohemian life style with friends and acquaintances. When Patrick, arrives on her doorstep with his nanny, Agnes Gooch, she envelopes them both into her eccentric life. Kathy, as Mame, creates tender scenes with her 10-year-old nephew Patrick which are played with naturalness and ease.

 

Mary Callahan brings Vera to life with her live-each-day-as-it-comes philosophy.

 

Vera is hilarious in her “Man in the Moon” act and complements Mame in so many ways.

 

Young Patrick Dennis, played by Cameron Levesque, is able to hold his own in every scene in which he appears. He is a talented song and dance actor who is confident and relaxed in his role. The story is a series of chapters, which cover various episodes over the course of his life, with the unusual ups and downs of growing up with his rather unconventional aunt.

 

A shout-out to Costume Designer Tyler Kinney, for the wonderful touches which range from the unusual, during satirical  "The Man In The Moon", to the formal attire of the “Fox Hunt”, and the whimsical costumes of the many celebratory party scenes.

 

The ‘Mame’ cast also includes Stoneham Theatre favorites Margaret Ann Brady, Meryl Galaid, John O’Neil, Robert Saoud, and Ceit Zweil. In addition, Katie Anne Clark, Serge Clivio, Sarah Kawalek, Sarah Mass, Will McGarrahan, Sean McGuirk, Brian-Barry Pereira, Matty Rickard, Rhys Scheibe,  Hannah Shihdanian. Asher Navisky, and Isabelle Richards contribute their talents.  

 

Several actors play two roles, Margaret Ann Brady plays Mother Burnside, Mame’s skeptical Southern Mother-in-law and Mrs. Upson, a simple bigot from CT.  Will McGarrahan plays the charming Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, Mame’s beloved husband, as well as Mr. Upson, Patrick’s future Father-in-law. Will brings his extensive  acting experience to his Stoneham Theatre debut. Matty Rickard returns to Stoneham as the Dance Captain, and also plays the older Patrick Dennis.  

 

This Stoneham production casts at least a dozen fewer dancers than the norm and as a result the 10 talented ensemble players have several costume changes and needed to master a variety of dance styles.

 

The score is excellent, especially the title hit, and “Bosom Buddies” (my personal favorite). Music Director, Matthew Stern and his orchestra of eight competent musicians bring the production to life. Mame contains some of composer Jerry Herman's best music. The songs are perfectly suited to the characters and situations. 

 

The design team is comprised of Scenic Designer, Katheryn Monthei; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Costume Designer, Tyler Kinney; Music Director, Matthew Stern; Sound Designer, John Stone, and Props Master, Jacob Street. Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman and the play ‘Auntie Mame’ by Lawrence and Lee.

 

The original novel Auntie Mame (1955) by Patrick Dennis, aka Edward Everett Tanner III, chronicling the adventures of growing up as a ward of the sister of his dead father. The book is inspired by Dennis’ real life eccentric aunt, Marion Tanner (1891- 1985). She was born in Buffalo, graduated from Smith College and became an ice hockey instructor. She studied psychology with Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, receiving a master's degree in sociology from New York University. Miss Tanner devoted much of her life to caring for homeless children. 

 

‘Mame’ is a perfect seasonal choice playing at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA 02180 until December 23rd,. 

 

I enthusiastically rate this production with 5 stars.

 

For more information please call Stoneham Theatre’s Box Office at (781) 279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.