“Mack & Mabel,” a lesser known musical by the legendary composer Jerry Herman (“Hello, Dolly,” “Mame”), was not a hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1974 (starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters). It ran for about two months and then closed. It did earn eight Tony Award nominations, but won none and seemed to be destined only for the history books.
Thank goodness it was not forgotten by the folks at the new theater company Sing Out Louise!, who are currently offering a delightful concert staging of the musical at SecondStory Repertory in Redmond.
Told in flashback, the story revolves around the relationship of Hollywood director Mack Sennett (Marcus Wolland) and waitress-turned-movie-star Mabel Normand (Caitlin Frances). They first meet in 1910 on the set of one of Mack’s movies and the story unfolds over two decades touching on the bumpy transition of the film industry from the silent to the sound era, love and jealousy, even a notorious unsolved murder.
The cast is uniformly top-notch, with Wolland anchoring the proceedings with a solid, sometimes blustering and finally moving performance as Sennett (his final monologue is particularly touching). You need a solid actor in this role, and this show has one.
Caitlin Frances gives a no holds barred, star turn as Mabel, singing her heart out in such showstoppers as “Wherever He Ain’t” and “Time Heals Everything.” When Mabel returns to Max’s studio after a time away, she gets a wonderful, bona fide Herman song, singing her praises (think “Hello, Dolly” and “Mame). The lady even crosses her leg with attitude (go see the show, you’ll see what I mean).
There is standout work from Seattle-area stalwarts: Loretta Deranleau Howard as rival/friend to Mabel (she is a comic/vocal powerhouse), Bill Hamer as director William Desmond Taylor (all dangerously, devilish charm), Michael Krenning as a seemingly quiet young man known only as Frank, John Kelleher as silent film comic Fatty Arbuckle and an ensemble that can sing and dance with the best of them.
The show is sharply directed by David-Edward Hughes (assisted by Moshe Henderson), with strong musical direction from Kim Douglass, nimble choreography from Elizabeth Posluns and beautiful, moody visual scenic design by James Spear. The show is presented “in concert” with the actors holding books during dialogue scenes, but you’ll hardly notice it. This is a dynamite production, firing on all cylinders. Go and check out this unfairly neglected musical, through Jan. 28. Tickets may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com
Guest Reviewer-Robert Conway