The International Writers Magazine:Preview
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart Revised by Francine Pascal
Directed by John Doyle
Arrangements and musical direction by Sarah Travis
Starring David Soul and Janie Dee.
Review by Ben Macpherson
a decade ago I heard Tom Conti sing a song called I Wont
Send Roses. It affected me greatly. I cannot explain why,
but for a long time I searched in vain to find the origins of
this song. Upon discovering it was from the Jerry Herman show
Mack & Mabel, I set out in search of a recording.
However, ten years
or so passed and I forgot about my enthusiasm, waylaid with other things.
That song was still with me though. So, I was intrigued and delighted
to see that the show had been revived and was playing near me during
its UK tour. Added to my initial enthusiasm which prompted the memory
of that one song, the show was directed by John Doyle, whose work with
Musical Director Sarah Travis on the recent smash hit revival of Stephen
Sondheims Sweeney Todd was both original and
fresh, with consummate professionalism in his use of actor-musicians.
Seeing that this last production of his prompted me to explore Sweeney
Todd as part of my degree work, I couldnt help but wonder
what Mack & Mabel may hold. I booked up and went
Having heard luke-warm reports about David Soul who was starring as
Mack Sennett, I was intrigued to see this man, whose name I have heard
on and off all my life, most recently associated of course with the
controversial Jerry Springer The Opera. His
opposite, Mabel, was played by Janie Dee who I had previously
loved in her role with Tim Flavin in the Gershwin musical My
One & Only.
With a modest set and a modest cast, it was never set to be a big-scale
Epic, but Sweeney had engendered a strong emotional
reaction from me and thus I was eager for the same last Friday night.
Before proceeding with a review of the production, the story itself
concerns the lives and loves of two real life characters, Mack Sennett
silent movie Director in the 1920s and Mabel Normand, his
star and wife/ex-wife/wife. That last statement more or less sums up
the show. It turns out that he hires her for Keystone Pictures, so that
Paramount doesnt snap her up, even though her humble beginnings
mean that she is "plain little Nelly, the kid from the deli".
It transpires that unwittingly he is more married to his pictures than
to real life (which makes for a touching "Ill Give You A
Happy Ending" number to end a dark and melodramatic show). Their
marriage hits the rocks through a series of "Shoot this picture";
"No"; "Fine, Ill leave you"; "Fine, youre
fired" plot developments. Added to this, in the second half it
turns out that she is a coke addict (the drug not the drink), and he
takes her back, with them presumably becoming destitute.
But life, ever the motion picture waiting to happen, ends on the bittersweet
song mentioned above.
A fairly bleak and bland picture. Sweeney Todd was
far darker and yet contained far more elements with which Doyle could
execute his vision, and it does have to be said that in all honesty
it felt like it having seen this production. The ensemble musicians,
some of whom had cameo roles but whose names it didnt seem worth
looking up in the over-priced programme, moved around the stage as they
had been directed. But one got the sense that they were simply doing
that; not acting, just going through the motions.
This production seemed a good idea which wasnt quite out of the
preview stage. One main factor I believe contributed to this was the
appalling sound design. It was at times difficult to make out the jokes
when only one or two were singing them! Janie Dee, who played the naïve
Mabel didnt exactly shine as expected and witnessed in previous
shows and towards the end of Act One she even missed a good few of her
notes. The second act (by which point I had changed seats as the stalls
were half empty, in the hope of getting a better view and sound) was
not all that much improved. There was a number called Tap Your
Troubles Away which contained a dance. The dance. All of a sudden,
the cast began razzle-dazzle tap dancing in the middle of a show which
hadnt previously drawn on this sort of Broadway tradition! Incongruous
to say the least! An ill chosen idea, executed by a mediocre cast made
this a bizarre moment. Also, it seems that whilst I really enjoy the
artistic handling of actor-musicians it didnt seem that this ensemble
were as comfortable with the idea as even I was as an audience member.
In short, the saving grace was the wonderful score of Jerry Hermann
and the real lead of David Soul who sang amazingly well with sensitivity
and commanded the stage with focus and drive.
In my opinion, this show didnt work as a black-box scale down.
However, fans of the music, or of David Soul may well be interested
to know that this show is on tour until 5th April after which it transfers
to the Criterion Theatre in Londons West End. Lets hope
it arrives with a better overall cast, more intimate setting and decent
sound! Those who may wish to see a professional cast and a superbly
original production of Sweeney Todd may also like to know that it too
is on tour. For more information see www.mackandmabel.co.uk
© Ben Macpherson Feb 22nd 2006
Previews - MANCHESTER Palace Theatre (Mon 27 Feb - Sat 4 March) GUILDFORD
Yvonne Arnaud (Mon 6 - Sat 11 Mar), EASTBOURNE Devonshire Park Theatre
(Mon 13 - Sat 18 March), NOTTINGHAM Theatre Royal (Mon 20 - Sat 25 March)
Book via Ticketmaster
Ben own musical 'The Eigth Square' will be playing at the New Theatrre
Royal in Portsmouth in May in 2006
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