Mame Dennis, the irrepressible, bugle-blowing, free-spirited former chorine and irresistible heroine of the Broadway musical Mame, is a larger-than-life character — a virtual force of nature. Between 1928 and 1946, when the play’s events take place, “Auntie Mame” effortlessly attracts the best and brightest doers and thinkers from all nations to her salon at 3 Beekman Place in New York City, bewitching the men with a mere batting of her eyelashes, it seems.
Kate Andres plays the title role in the current Candlewood International and Mainstage Artists Management touring production of Mame, which Broadway at Duke brought to Page Auditorium on March 28th. Andres has some impressive credits in her program bio, and her impersonation of Mame is entertaining, but it somehow lacks the larger-than-life quality — the charisma — and the big Broadway voice needed to do justice to one of the truly unforgettable characters of the American musical theater.
Eleni Delopoulos, who plays Mame’s best friend Vera Charles, hams it up hilariously. She is a scream as a fading musical-theater star whose torrid love affair with Demon Rum is about to scuttle her umpteenth comeback attempt. Erica Livingston is amusing as initially uptight nanny Agnes Gooch, whom Mame shows how to unwind — with disastrous results; and Alan Hoffman is charming as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy and dashing son of the Old South whose thirst for high-risk adventure proves his undoing.
Young Corey Cray, who alternates with Russell Goetz, has clearly outgrown the role of 10-year-old Patrick Dennis, whom his aunt Mame adopts when he is orphaned. Either that, or Patrick was the world’s tallest preteen!
Ricky Oliver is better as Patrick age 19-29, and Bambi Noltimier is funny as Patrick’s snooty high-society girlfriend Gloria Upson. John Panichello plays a pair of priggish stuffed shirts — banker Dwight Babcock and Mr. Upson, Patrick’s insufferable future father-in-law — with brio; Swaine Kaui is good as Mame’s houseman Ito; and Cat Widdifield contributes a crisp comic cameo as Sally Cato, Beau Burnside’s catty childhood sweetheart and former fiancée whom he spurns after he meets Mame.
This National Tour of Mame, restaged by musical supervisor Jeffrey Buchsbaum and choreographed by Paula Hammons Sloan based on the 1988 production directed by Dom Ruggiero, is a crowd-pleaser, with handsome sets by Michael Anania and striking costumes by Marilynn Wick, despite the shortcomings cited above. Although Mame lists Terry Hanson as its musical director, the show apparently employs a prerecorded score rather than live musicians. That is troubling, but it was only troublesome a few times when audio engineer Cody Spencer had difficulty mixing the live vocals with the canned instrumental accompaniment.
Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway/ [inactive 9/07]. The Tour: http://www.mainstage-mgmt.com/shows/mame/mame.html [inactive 7/08].