Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
adapted from the novel by Patrick Dennis, and the play, Auntie Mame, by Lawrence & Lee

INFO:

Opened at the Winter Garden Theatre    May 24, 1966    1,508 performances (revived again in ’83, with Lansbury again playing Mame)
Original Director: Gene Saks
Original Choreographer: Onna White
Original Producer: Fryer, Carr and Harris
Original Leads: Mame: Angela Lansbury Vera Charles: Beatrice Arthur Agnes Gooch: Jane Connell
Cast Size: Male: 7, one boy    Female: 6    Ensemble: 8-whatever    Total Cast Size: 22-huge
Orchestra: 20, though 11 is the minimum suggested
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The ’66 Broadway cast is very strong.
Film: A really poor film with a miscast Lucille Ball in the role, too old for the role.
Other shows by the authors: Hello, Dolly; La Cage Aux Folles
Awards: The original won 8 Tony nominations and 3 wards, including Lansbury and Arthur.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a very large show with a very large female starring role. This is a show virtually requiring a large cast, large stage, real sets and period costuming. In other words, a prototypical Broadway show, and expensive to produce.

This is the kind of show that might be considered by Colleges and Universities, large regional theaters wishing to revive a big Broadway show, and professional producers.

Be Warned:

Not a great show for small theatres and smaller companies. Not a great show if you haven’t access to a lot of costumes from the 20s-40s. A difficult show to do in a theatre without wings and flies. Not a wise choice for a small budget. A poor choice if you haven’t a Broadway-type choreographer and some good dancers at your disposal. And you must have a charismatic and gifted female lead. I think most companies would be better off looking elsewhere, but if you are set up for a large show, and in fact require one, this might be the one.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The late 1920s. In a raging, dangerous city – NYC. Patrick, a bright boy, age 10, passes through this frightening place with his nanny, Agnes Gooch. They are headed to his Auntie Mame Dennis’ house, because she is Patrick’s only living relative. Agnes prays to “St. Bridgit” to deliver them to Mame’s residence at Beekman Place. She wants the boy to sing this hymn to a Catholic Saint, but he says his father would not have liked it, being a Presbyterian. Afraid, though, he joins in.

Mame’s elegant apartment, and a mad cocktail party circa’ the 1920′s is on. Mame is the center of attention, and she demands they celebrate the fact that “It’s Today”. Her friends are all famous, and drunk. Patrick and Agnes are led into this madness. They watch as a drunken Mame slides down a bannister playing a bugle. Patrick is charmed, Agnes is alarmed. Patrick tells Mame he can play Reveille, but his father disapproved of noise and did not let him play. Mame says he must come from an awful family, and Patrick points out he only has one living relative – Mame. She suddenly realizes he was due to arrive today, and awards him the bugle as a present. She introduces him to the crowd as her little boy. She offers the boy a martini, but realizes her error. Patrick meets her many interesting friends, and they celebrate the fact that on this day, she was united with Patrick.

Two weeks later. Patrick has boxing gloves, a cage of live mice, rabbits, and is given a bicycle. Agnes instructs the doorman to place the bike downstairs, but the man tells her that the First Lady of the American Theatre (Vera) is passed out down there. In Mame’s bedroom, Patrick bursts in with a model airplane, to show it off. Mame is awakened and horrified. But she works hard to truly appreciate the boy. He shares with her the new words he’s learned, as she instructed – all slang, from Mame’s friends. Patrick informs her a banker is coming over in five minutes. Mame panics, shouts for Vera, who enters in a fog. It’s Patrick’s trustee that’s on his way. Vera is far too hung over to be of immediate use. In the living room, Patrick talks to his trustee, Mr. Babcock. As he’s been taught, he offers the man a martini, which shocks the conservative, nearly British gentleman. He has, in fact, acquired considerable expertise bar tending. Mame enters quickly, and suggests to the man that it’s too early to drink but she won’t tell on him, turning the tables quickly. Babcock is there to make sure Patrick goes to a good school in Manhattan. Mame wants him in a progressive school. Unless Babcock has his way, he threatens to send Patrick to his own stuffy alma mater. Mame dismisses the man, who thinks he’s won the day. But once he’s gone, Mame calls him a bastard, and tears up the school application he’s left her.

She will show Patrick real life, they will “Open A New Window”, and that will be his education. We see him exposed to the high and low of NYC, and it is a remarkable life. He even attends a raid at a speakeasy, and barely escapes with Mame. They are finally arrested, but they could not care less.

The apartment. Babcock waits with Gooch. The man knows Patrick has not been going to school. The man confronts Mame as she enters, and shows her Patrick dressed in blankets, portraying a fish depositing eggs in the sand. Patrick is learning, but Babcok disapproves, and Mame disapproves of him. Babcock decides the boy must go to his alma mater. Patrick is heart-broken. Vera enters to announce that something bad has happened to the stock market, but she doesn’t really understand it. Mame appears to be broke. Vera offers to secure her a part in a Broadway play. Mame is thrilled…too thrilled. We see the number Vera would do with her, “The Man In The Moon”. And suddenly we’re watching the number on the stage of the Schubert Theatre. Vera gives the cue several times with growing anger, and Mame finally enters, atop a swaying moon suspended from the rafters. Mame panics, and ruins the number. She’s fired. Patrick tells Mame that he liked her in the show, and that she’s “My Best Girl”.

We go to a men’s beauty parlor. Mame has a new job there, as a manicurist. Her first client is Beau, Handsome, imposing, a Southern gentleman. He falls for Mame immediately, and invites her to Peckerwood, his little-old plantation. But she’s destroyed his nails, and she’s fired as he is dragged away.

The apartment. Patrick’s home early because of his good grades. There is no money, they’re eating shredded wheat. But Agnes and Mame’s man, Ito, stay on. Mame did buy some Christmas presents, including long pants for Patrick, his first pair. She hands out the gifts because times are tough, and “We Need A Little Christmas”. And Gooch and Ito have a present for Mame…they have paid her bills. And then, Beau arrives at her place, looking for her so he can apologize for losing her the job (which he did not). And he decides to take them all for dinner.

To Peckerwood. A party, to meet Beau’s Yankee girlfriend. And boy, his family and associates are Southern. Beau’s “fiance” from grade school, Sally Cato, arrives. Mother Burnside enters and demands Beau trot out the Yankee so they can all get a look at her. Mame enters, sporting an accent as (quoting the script) “southern as a candied yam.” Sally asks if it was horses that brought them together, because “her” Beau would be bored stiff with a woman who didn’t ride. Mame plays along, and suddenly, Sally demands they go on a hunt. Mame tries to weasel out and fails.

“The Fox Hunt” commences, and we do not see it, but are told by people watching what happens. (A particularly lame piece of dramaturgy.) Mame’s horse goes mad, leads the pack, passes the dogs, passes the fox! Patrick is afraid for her. She brings back the fox…alive, for the first time in history. Beau is thrilled, and asks her to marry him. Beau and everyone there celebrate “Mame”.

ACT TWO: Patrick sits at a small desk and types a letter to Mrs. Mame Dennis Burnside. As he writes letters to her (and she is traveling all over the world), we see him age into a young adult. We see Mame and Beau in Singapore, as she avidly reads Patrick’s letters. She writes and asks what he wants to be when he grows up, and he lets her know that he is up. Then Babcock visits Patrick at school to let him know that Mame’s husband fell of an Alp and died. Mame is wealthy again. Mame calls Patrick, and she is distraught, but Patrick reminds his Auntie that she’s “My Best Girl”.

The Beekman Place apartment, six months later. A male friend of Mame’s who has always tried to help her, Lindsay, prepares the apartment for her return, and Vera is there dressed in fashionable black. The doorbell rings, and in shlumps Agnes, in a shapeless overcoat. She’s studied typing, and can do over 200 words a minute. She is going to help Mame write a book. Mame arrives home. Lindsay informs Mame she’ll be writing a book which he will publish. Mame decides to try it, and starts dictating to Agnes, who is incredibly fast. Patrick encourages Mame.

Mame and Vera forgive each other, and swear they will always be “Bosom Buddies”. (And only a Bosom Buddy will tell you the truth…) The two women compete for the most checkered dating past, and Agnes, fascinated, points out that she’s never had a date. Mame and Vera take her on as a project, and virtually strip her of her horrible clothes, to redo her.

Six months later. Mame’s book is done…well, chapter one, anyway. Vera is unconscious. Lindsay visits to see how his “favorite authoress” is doing. The book has slowed down since Mame is typing it…Agnes vanished months ago, and only one postcard has arrived from her, saying she is trying to do everything Mame taught her. Patrick enters with news…he’s in love with a girl named Gloria Upson. He’s bringing Gloria to meet Mame in a few minutes. The Agnes enters – six months pregnant. (“Gooch’s Song”) Mame welcomes her home. Patrick suddenly does not want Gloria to come to Beekman Place, and says he’ll set up a “proper” introduction. Vera suggests Mame not wait – that she invade the Upsons, in Connecticut.

The Upson barn, a sedate soiree. Mr. Babcock speaks with Mr. and Mr.s Upson. Upson wants to cut ooose – it’s the Mrs. who keeps things sedate. And Mr. Upson likes the look of Mame. Mame sweeps in with Patrick, and tells them she does not know where to begin to say what she thinks of their house. The Mr. drinks with Mame, they get along fine. Patrick introduces Gloria to Mame. She’s a bit of a rich, pampered idiot. Jr. Babcock saves Mame, inviting her to dance. Mame is thrilled to be done with the older crowd. (“That’s How Young I Feel”)

She’s caught dancing with the “kids”, and Mrs. Upson implies that Mame is a poor chaperone. It’s then that Mame discovers there is to be a wedding. And Mrs. Upson has planned everything, with all the “best” people at the best church, etc.

Patrick confronts Mame and says he’s sick of crazy people, he wants to protect his bubble-headed bride-to-be from them. And that, he says, means people like Mame. Alone, she wonders where she went wrong, and how she might change things “If He Walked Into My Life” today, that bot with the bugle.

Beekman Place. The place is changing its look to ultramodern. Agnes, a few more weeks along, drinks milk. Patrick, in a dinner jacket, enters and is surprised to see the change. The place is being redone by a very direct, interesting woman, Pegeen, who doesn’t even like what she is doing. Patrick knew her, from a wild school Mame sent him to when he was young. And he’s immediately enchanted by her. She’s everything his intended is not. He approaches Mame, and tells her he’s not angry with her. (Really?!) The house is being set up for a party for the Upsons. And she sets Patrick’s mind at ease – Agnes will be hidden away. However, Agnes makes an appearance, and that upsets Patrick. And just then, the doorbell rings – it’s the Upsons. He begs Agnes to hide upstairs as Mame lets her guests in, with Babcock – all the people Mame despises.

The party starts, and eventually, Mame’s crazy friends enter. The Upsons are stunned to see a great actress, Vera. A well-known publisher, Lindsey. Vera starts to drink when they mistake her for Tallulah Bankhead. Mame asks Patrick to assist Pegeen is setting the party up. Gloria is incensed that Patrick is paying any attention at all to another woman. All eyes turn as Agnes waddles down the stairs. Mame introduces Agnes as her secretary. Mrs. Upson assumes Agnes is married. She finds out else-wise when Agnes wails in sorrow that she’s single. Babcock and Patrick apologize for Mame, but Mame isn’t having any of it. In fact, she announces she’s bought property right near the Upsons, to build a home for unwed mothers. The Upsons depart.

Lindsay wonders if Mame planned all this. But Patrick, far from angry, reminds Mame that she’s “My Best Girl.”

Beekman Place, years later. Partrick has married Pegeen, and they have a son. And Mame has assumed the boy’s education. They will have adventures and “Open A New Window.”

THE SONGS:

“St. Bridget”, “It’s Today”, “Open A New Window”, “The Man In The Moon”, “My Best Girl”, “We Need A Little Christmas”, “The Fox Hunt”, “Mame”, “Bosom Buddies”, “Gooch’s Song”, “That’s How Young I Feel”, “If He Walked Into My Life”

Hits include “It’s Today”, “Open A New Window”, “My Best Girl”, “We Need A Little Christmas”, “Mame”, “If He Walked Into My Life”

MY OPINIONS:

Feel free to skip or ignore my opinion and rating, as always.  But if you do, don’rt be too surprised to fined you been beaten, bruised, and Mamed…er, maimed.  This is going to be a bit on the long side, I’m afraid. Skip this section if you just want to know about this show.

Let’s start with the fact that I have a bias. I’m really not a Jerry Herman fan. I find his compositions cloying as a rule, trite, overly-manipulative. Are they melodic, you bet. Do they stick in the mind? Uh-huh. And in Mame, unlike his other mega-hit, Hello, Dolly, Herman actually did write all the songs. Occasionally, he is capable of writing a gorgeous song, as he did in this show with “If He Walked Into My Life.” But all too often, Herman’s songs sound alike, and deal with a false sort of cheer and bravado I personally find demeaning. There are three songs in Act I of this sort, “It’s Today”, “Open A New Window”, and “We Need A Little Christmas”. They are almost the same song, frankly. They can easily be played at the same tempo setting, and deal with the easy and cheap sentiment that depression is unacceptable, so, well, buck up and live life. They do not forward story (though the script uses them in some clever ways to do so). They do not tell us anything about the characters we don’t already know from the book. To me, they are frankly windy, overblown attempts to cheer up the audience. And if your show is so weak that your audience needs to be cheered up in the middle of it, well, that’s not very good, is it?

And yes, each of those songs became a sort of hit, so what do I know?

There are different kinds of musicals, with different intentions as entertainment. The worst of shows for me are shows that rely on camp. These are shows that lampoon or make abusive use of a period, a style of show or music, a time or place, to score their entertainment points. As a rule, I find these to be very poor indeed, and rather witless. Included in the ranks of embarrassments of this sort are The Boy Friend, Dames At Sea, and Grease. (I’m not saying these shows don’t have some fun, some good songs and good moments. I am saying I don’t like these shows for what they are. I find them generally vapid, unentertaining, and embarrassing.) A marvelous example (and rare) of camp made to be entertaining and productive is Singin’ In The Rain. Another is Bye Bye, Birdie. But both those shows lean heavily on character development, and count on the audience rooting for their leads. And they are written with more grace, more intelligence, and more heart than normal camp.

I think Mame is almost camp, but not quite so low. Almost, though. It makes use of the period it takes place in without hideously lampooning it, so it does not fall into this category.

Then there is the rather simple, and sometimes simplistic Musical Comedy that usually focuses on a love story, and which doesn’t have any pretensions, really, to educate, or to extend the reach of the musical theatre. And there are some lovely and fun shows that fit this category. Shows like Guys And Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun, Damn Yankees, The Music Man, and She Loves Me fit this category, and they deserve immortal and wonderful lives, along with many others of their kind. Jerry Herman’s shows generally fall into this category, with the exception of La Cage Aux Folles.

This is the category Mame fits roughly into. The show does have a heart, which makes it better than camp. The script is certainly more able, cleverer and more pro than camp usually is. In fact, Mame works well when it goes for comedy, that is when it’s at its best as a show. But nearly all the characters are simplistic and one-dimensional. And Patrick is rather unlikeable until the end, which makes Mame’s obsession with him as he arrives at an age to be interested in women rather unfortunate, I think.

A variation of this form is the “romantic epic,” the large, sweeping musical love story that has something interesting above and beyond romance on its mind, and which mixes to some extent some dramatic moments into an essentially comic story. My Fair Lady, Camelot, The King & I, and Man of La Mancha fit this category. These are wonderful shows, and they are hybrids of old Musical Comedy and R&H Musical Drama.

Then there are pieces that fall closer to the Rodgers & Hammerstein formula, shows that are about something while they entertain. Usually, such dhows have some dramatic content, and deal with social issues such as bigotry. This does not mean they can’t be wildly satiric and comic, as The Threepenny Opera, Finian’s Rainbow and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying ably demonstrate. But they often allow in more serious dramatic conflict and, importantly, context, as does South Pacific, Fiddler On The Roof, and La Cage Aux Folles falls into this category.

Then there are are serious musicals that reach for deep drama, often at the expense of comedy, and occasionally at the expense of entertainment. Some superior examples of this sort of work include Lost In The Stars, Ragtime, and West Side Story. These are pieces that can border on opera, sometimes. They use music in a way Musical Comedy does not, to reach for large and universal statements, and darker, deeper emotion. Does it take more skill to compose musical material for these sorts of pieces than, say, for great Musical Comedy like Guys and Dolls, or Kiss Me, Kate? Nope. No way. It requires a remarkable skill set to make an audience laugh while listening to a song. It requires a remarkable skill set to write a memorable song of any kind. But the two forms require a different set of skills, and different intentions on the part of the writers.

Perhaps another “branch” of the serious musical, but one that often allows a great deal of humor in the door, is the “experimental” musical. These are shows that use unusual theatrical techniques built into the story-telling. Shows like Follies, Pacific Overtures, Stop The World – I Want To Get Off, The Fantasticks, Lady In The Dark, Cabaret, Jesus Christ, Superstar and Hair fall into this category, and are very strong shows indeed. I would go so far as to say that, to me (and this is the MY OPINION section), these usually make the most interesting shows.

In my opinion,. A theater company should challenge itself. It is a living thing, and it should look for ways to grow, to experience its potentials. Things that do not grow die. That means that, using the above as a sort of scale, companies could gauge to what extent they are growing or challenging themselves. Camp would be no challenge, really, as it is witless and merely requires a modest degree of professionalism to pull it off, along with some energy. (And granted, lots of companies can’t do that.) Smart camp would be harder to do, as it is moving toward Musical Comedy. Musical Comedy would be quite a step toward expertise, a much bigger challenge than camp, worthy and productive. Historically, people very good at doing Musical Comedy, like George Abbott, famed Director, are considered to be geniuses.

Romantic epics are bigger and in some ways, harder to make work than Musical Comedy. The company doing such a work must know exactly where the entertainment and the comic value is, and how to use it, to make these pieces work well. And so, a higher degree of expertise is required than when doing Musical Comedy, generally. The R&H school of integrated musicals (meaning every song and scene and action is intended to help communicate the story and characters) is harder yet, and requires well-integrated production designs and thinking. And the darker the drama goes in an advanced show of this sort, the more professionalism is required to keep the show buoyant, entertaining, interesting. After all, every show must entertain, or the battle for the audience is lost. A serious show that also experiments with theatrical approaches, a deep show with serious intent that also entertains while stretching the boundaries of the Musical Theatre, would require the peak of professionalism.

Mame falls toward the bottom end of this scale, and that’s perfectly fine because we need a lot of shows to chew on before we acquire expertise. It is a fairly fail-proof entertainment, manipulative in the extreme. A little, homeless boy and a single woman who knows nothing about children, and they must make it work. Of course we will root for them! That said, this is a mighty large show, and given where it falls on my little scale above, it may be too complex on a technical level to pull off, by the companies that should be considering producing it.

And there we have the problem.

Mame’s technical demands are extreme. In costuming, sets, lighting, orchestra, and in the demands placed on the leading actresses, plus the size of the cast, choreographic needs, etc…it’s a very big, very complex, and an expensive production. In my notes, I’ll try to scale it down somewhat, but you can only take that so far before a show like this loses its shape and value. To do this show on a tech level requires a great deal of expertise and huge resources. It truly is a Broadway show.

And it’s overall not worth the fuss. That’s my opinion. I don’t think the story rewards its audience enough, or that it provides us in the end with characters we really will care for enough. The score is a mixed bag, with a fair amount of unfortunate material in it. To put in what it will take to do this show, and this is where I come down in the discussion, one could do a much more interesting show. And if you’re ready for a show of this size, it would be worth a look at some of those other Musical Comedies, shows that provide more entertainment value, a better score, a more interesting story.

And that said, Mame is one of the biggest hits in history, largely because productions have cast major female stars in their maturity, looking for a musical to do, such as Angela Lansbury. The show provides a massive and challenging showcase for that star. If you have a star like that, consider this show. If you haven’t, there are better shows, and minimal reason to try this one.

And that is my opinion. You are free to toss it out and proceed, and I encourage you to do so.

There is one other compelling reason to consider Mame. It has three large roles for women. In fact, the female roles are almost all better than the male roles,. Including the unfortunate role of Patrick. Women carry this show, and that’s unusual. If you are trying to find a show that skews toward female leads, this might be a good one.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is easy to teach, to play, and to learn. The melodies are straight-forward and redundant, with some interesting intervals and turns. There actually are almost too few songs in the show, but there are many reprises to help move the action along and maintain the show as a Musical, and this is similar to the construction of shows Rodgers and Hammerstein championed. Your Musical Director/accompanist needs to play with sure clarity, and lots of energy. This score requires committed, energetic execution.

Mame – Mezzo with great energy and charisma, a good and powerful voice. She has a lot to do, a lot of lines, a lot of singing and needs a voice that will survive a real workout. A role for a star.

Vera – Alto, low, rumbling, expressive comic voice, good belt.

Agnes – Soprano, comic, strong voice, decent belt.

Young Patrick – Good solid voice.

Mature Patrick – Only has one brief reprise, needs an okay voice.

Beau – Sings “Mame”. Baritone, strong Southern accent, clear, leading man kind of voice.

Babcock – Non-Singing.

Jr. Babcock – Non-Singing. (Can double in chorus)

Pegeen – Non-Singing. (Double in chorus)

Gloria – Non-Singing. (Double in chorus)

Mr. Upson – Non-Singing. (Double in chorus)

Mrs. Upson – Non-Singing. (Double in chorus)

Ito – Lyric comic Baritone.

Lindsay Woolsey – Non-Singing. (Sings with ensemble)

Ensemble – Must sing and dance well, play various roles and look appropriate for the ’30s-’40s, as if they were famous people. Many if not all will have speaking parts as well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is a Broadway dance show, and the dance must me pro, vibrant, and really fun to watch.

The numbers that a choreographer should involve himself or herself in include “It’s Today”, “Open A New Window”, “The Man In The Moon”, “We Need A Little Christmas”, “The Fox Hunt”, “Mame”, “Bosom Buddies”, and “That’s How Young I Feel”. That’s most of the score. Basically, the ballads should be handled by the Director.

I think the choreographer has to work closely with the director to make certain that “It’s Today”, “Open A New Window”, and “We Need A Little Christmas” each has its own sensibility, it’s own movement motif, as removed from the other two numbers as possible. The approach to each of these numbers has to be more than different from the others, it also needs to be right for the moment in the play. Somehow, tension should grow, and each of these numbers should each feel more necessary than the last, as Mame fights her way through to effort on.

The plays starts in the roaring 20s, and it’s party time when they sing “It’s Today”. The number should feel celebratory, self-contained, prosperous, self-involved. (And Mame must be somewhat self-involved at the start, or there can be no growth for her.) The fact of the Depression should be made very real to the audience. By the time we get to “We Need A Little Christmas”, we should need it. The choreography should perhaps feel a bit forced and needy. The psychological and actual change in fortunes should be clear in comparing these two numbers. So these three numbers would express an arc in the story of growing need, tightening belts, increased resolve.

Unfortunately, what tension might be borrowed from this arc completely ends with the end of Act I, the fox hunt, and “Mame”. Far be it from me to point out that this is not great dramaturgy, and that the Director, Choreographer and others would have had more to work with if the Depression lingered until, well, the end of the show. But the authors have made the Auntie Mame/Patrick relationship the bedrock of the story, and relegated their financial travails to a bit of a joke that ends with a fox hunt and Southern wedding of silly proportions. It’s important to understand where the central drama or conflict lies, here, and the Depression is just sort of dramatic window dressing. It is in large part the placing of this odd relationship at the core of the show and at the expense of bigger social drama that keeps this show firmly locked in the Musical Comedy mode.

The two numbers with Vera and Mame, “The Man In The Moon”, and “Bosom Buddies” are straight Musical Comedy fare. They are better than many such numbers in that they do focus on the characters and their relationship. The numbers should feel like a continuation of dialogue, and an already difficult relationship established in the book. The tension between the characters (and their affection for each other) simply elevates into song and movement. Note that I said “movement,” not dance. These numbers are not about filling the stage. Lights should narrow down the audience’s area of focus for these numbers, and the movement should contribute to the communication of character tension and situation only. A few steps that look like actual steps would be welcome, but everything really should contribute to the drama.

“The Fox Hunt” is almost a take on “Ascot Gavotte” from My Fair Lady. A lot of people stand around and watch a race of sorts. Again, unlike in My Fair Lady, where that piece is a sort of in joke on the upper classes and how “calm” they can afford to remain, this number is pretty much pointless except they needed it to tell us this part of the story. You can’t show us Mame on horseback outrunning and catching a fox. (Though you can show us Mame walking in, disheveled, breathless, fox wrapped around her shoulders, at the end of the number.) In fact, there’s not a lot of movement you can really put here without getting in the way of a joke with a weak premise as it is. Keep it simple.

And then there’s the big number at the end of Act I, a cakewalk of monumental theatrical proportions. You’ll need to pull the stops out, use everyone, dance them and sing them, and fill the stage with a southern corn pone celebration of the Confederate States new national heroine. Make sure you surround Mame with men folk who adore her. Walk her about like a prize pony, give her a blue ribbon, whatever it takes to make the number pay off. I don’t need to tell you that this is the song the audience will be waiting for. So fill it with high-kicking gentlemen of the South, parasols spinning in rhythm, and the scent of magnolia. And save the big kick-line for the end of the act, where you want applause. But save the confederate flags, please.

When Mame dances with a bunch of youngsters, they should just about do her in., The tempo should be fun and energetic, and she is always game…but she’s as old as she is. And we want to see her age, and to grow in wisdom and in love of family. It’s what allows her to accept Agnes, later, when she returns to Beekman Place pregnant.

Get some real dancers into your ensemble.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Mame – Ages 35 to 55, energetic, bright, a free spirit and fun-loving to excess. Not terribly hard working, but industrious in her intent to entertain herself, and to care for Patrick and expose him to life. A huge role with tons of signing and lines, she is pretty much the show. A role for a star of considerable charisma and ability. And I want to point out that Lucille Ball couldn’t pull it off. Watch the film version. This is a tough role. Cast for type, acting, singing, then movement. But really, you’ll need a performer who can do everything and make a mean Martini in the bargain.

Vera – 30-55. Drunk most of the time, theatrical, caustic, dry wit, doubtless a great actress or at least a great showman. We’re going to need to like her, so she must be fun, funny, and somewhere in there have a heart that finds in Mame a kindred spirit. Cast for acting and type, then voice, some movement.

Agnes – 25-40. At first dowdy, panicky, easily shaken, but strangely capable and determined. Compulsive in whatever behavior she accepts. Not ever “beautiful”, but cute enough when she’s put together. Cast for acting, type, then voice and some movement.

Young Patrick – Age 10 at first. Sweet-natured. A lost soul at the first, his parents gone, and thrust into his unknown Aunt’s care. He’s lived a repressed life but quickly adapts to his Aunt’s open-armed approach to life. Must be quickly accepted and loveable. Cast for type, acting, voice.

Mature Patrick – 20-ish. The same lad, but somewhat spoiled, and with an exaggerated view of the importance of propriety. He has lost his way again, this time in the tickets of society. A young, handsome adult, attractive to women, bright, but arrogant and somewhat unlikeable, we may find ourselves wishing for the younger version. Baritone, with very little singing. Cast for type and acting, then voice.

Beau – 35-50, handsome, southern as fried chicken, a gentleman to his bones with a quiet thirst for adventure, and a rare ability to almost instantly accept his fellow man. Others might consider him a “good soul.” Cast for looks, type, acting, then voice and movement.

Babcock – 45-65, a banker of sorts. Prim, humorless, arrogant, awkward with children, women and, well, probably most human beings. A stickler for order and propriety. Cast for acting and type.

Jr. Babcock – 20 ish, fun-loving, rebellious, lopw-brow. Should double in ensemble.

Pegeen – 20-ish. Efficient, dry, funny, very smart, creative, a free soul at heart. Must be perfectly lovely, of Irish descent. We must fall for her immediately. Acting, type, then voice and dance as she should double in the ensemble. Could play a “star” type in Act I.

Gloria – 20-ish, the perfectly raised society air-head from Connecticut. She is lovely to look at, but stupid beyond endurance. Really a cartoon, I’m afraid, that an actress must somehow make something more out of. Does she love Patrick at all? Probably not, though she loves how they look together, Cast foer type, acting, and then voice and dance as she should double in the ensemble. Could play a “star” type in Act I.

Mr. Upson – 40s-50s, a bit rough and tumble, dirty round the edges, but has bought his way into the upper crust of Connecticut. A serious drinker, a smoker, but protective of his position when it comes down to it. Cast for acting and type, then voice and dance as he should double in ensemble, a star type at Mame’s early parties.

Mrs. Upson – 40s-50′s, a Northern “belle”, uptight, morally rigid and judgmental. Cast for acting and type, then voice and dance as he should double in ensemble, a star type at Mame’s early parties.

Ito – Mame’s Asian houseman. Busy, active, a bit fey, dedicated and loving. Cast for acting and type, some singing (in group numbers). Really can’t double much.

Lindsay Woolsey – 30-55, perhaps the man Mame should end up with. He adores her, and is enormously patient with her nonsense. Quiet, accepting, steady. Cast for acting and type, the some voice and movement.

Ensemble – Many roles to fill, each a “type”, so you’ll need to make sure they get filled while casting singing and dancing actors.

SETS:

This is not a show that should be done with some sort of unit set. The wealth and extravagance of Mame’s life must be on display. Her apartment should be large, impressive, two-storied. The look of that apartment changes top to bottom at times, for her parties. Most of the show fortunately takes place in this one set, 10 of 16 scenes. It must reveal the passage of the years. The artwork displayed changes as do Mame’s interests and tastes and fortunes. The furniture is lovely, but grows worn during the Depression, and perhaps some of it is sold. She might buy new furniture for Act II, as she’s inherited her husband’s estate. After that time, there should be something always present to remind her of him, or she is heartless indeed. High ceilings, perhaps a column somewhere, an impressive staircase.

But there are more sets than the one. The street in NYC for the first scene should probably be played in front of the main drape on the apron, “in one.” Then the curtain opens to reveal Mame’s Beekman Place apartment. That takes us more or less to scene 7, the Schubert Theatre. A number played on stage to ruin and disaster. Perhaps a backdrop can fall in front of Mame’s apartment, hiding the back half of the stage, and the number can be played in the front part and apron. Another drop can be lowered in front of that to create the beauty salon, and a station wheeled on. While these two scenes play out, behind the drops, Mame’s house is flipped around, the staircase moved, so we see Peckerwood…with a lawn of grass, perhaps, when both drops are raised. This place should be as Southern as possible, with Magnolia trees and wide white steps and possibly the confederate flag above. Robert E. Lee would be proud to visit. The two scenes certainly provide you the time for this transition into Peckerwood, but the change must be done in silence, somehow.

Act II starts in Prep School, and Singapore. This scene can be played out on the apron again, with a small desk and chair for Patrick, and perhaps a school flag tapped to the side of the desk. Then, open the drapes for Mame’s apartment again, where four of five of the last scenes take place. There is one hitch to this overall design, the Upson Barn. Again, I would drop a backdrop with some depth to it, some dimension, half way up the stage, to create their wealthy little barn. The actors can roll on (and off) other elements of the set, so at the end of the scene we return to Mame’s by simply lifting the drop.

There are changes made to the set between scene 5 and the last scene, 6, as time passes. Keep these minimal as there’s no time to do them, a change of a painting or two, a move of a few pieces of furniture, 30 seconds tops. This is the worst change called for in the show as there’s really no way to hide it well, and it sets up the final scene. Perhaps have Ito and an assistant or two make the changes in full light as you start Scene 6, so there’s no down time at all.

The sets must be true to period. They must be true to social class. There are a million pictures and movies you can look at from the 20s-mid40s to get each period. Mame’s apartment should be fully three-dimensional, the home, the core of the story, a playground and a safe haven. It is open, friendly and inviting. Get this set right. And there must be enough room at the center for big numbers. Same thing goes for Peckerwood.

COSTUMES:

Mame and her NYC friends are rich, fabulous, handsome and happy. They epitomize the roaring 20s, and so do their clothes. You will doubtless find some of what you’ll need in costume shops, but I’m betting you’ll be building some of Mame and Vera’s costumes. The clothes should look as if no expense was spared – it wasn’t. When she becomes poor, she still has her clothes, though perhaps they age and grow distressed a bit. Then, she’s wealthy again, but it’s the 30s. Remember always, Mame will be doing a lot of singing and some movement.

Mame and Vera’s Broadway costuming should be over the top, fun, silly, Broadway glitz.

Agnes is frumpy, unappealing, unaware of her appearance and unconcerned. This is a comic character.

In Peckerwood, it’s the cream of Southern gentility, and the South will rise again. Show us the women in their Sunday bests, hats and gloves and all. It should almost feel like we’ve stepped into a time machine that went back to Gone With The Wind, with touches of the 1920s. A good costume shop should be very helpful with the men’s tuxes and the women’s gowns.

Men wear tuxes and suits. Patrick as a boy needs short pants, it’s a big deal when he finally gets long pants.

Babcock is professional and conservative always, and he always has the money he needs to look that way. The Upsons are wealthy in the midst of the Great Depression. But they are Connecticut Upper Class at that time. She is morally proper and prim, but not a schoolmarm. He wears a suit uncomfortably. He would be happier without the tie and hat.

There are a LOT of costumes to be round up or built. Start early, work with the other designers, Choreographer and Director to make sure the costumes do not get in anyone’s way. Plan on building some of Mame and Vera’s costumes.

PROPS:

Glasses and bootlegged booze for Mame’s many parties, and trays of food. A typewriter for Patrick, Act II. A bike, live mice in a cage, and Mame’s many other gifts to Patrick. There will be a lot of props to be secured, and they should look period correct. Start early.

LIGHTING:

Overall, it should be bright, Musical Comedy lighting. Spotlights for “The Man In The Moon” are required. Keep things fun, aggressive, well-lit, easy to see. The only time any “mood” lighting should enter in is for “If He Walked Into My Life”, and “My Best Girl”, those few moments where a sense of loss, or intimacy are called for, and those always involve Mame and Patrick. They are your love story.

MAKE-UP:

The 20s are a bit over-made-up. People are drunk, having too much fun. The 30s, the Depression, times are hard unless you’re Mame and Vera. For the most part, it’s Musical Comedy make-up, but not overdone.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Mame, Vera, Agnes.

MY THOUGHTS:

I both enjoy and dislike the script, for different reasons. I feel the same way about the score. Few shows leave me as conflicted and frustrated as this one.

The script relies very heavily on “coincidence.” Characters and situations appear right on time to keep things moving. This is done rather baldly, I think, and I find it annoying. But some of the scenes and dialogue light up with clever dialogue and interesting relationships. I think that friendship and family should be emphasized as themes, they are what potentially make the show palatable. I’d certainly keep this show moving at a brisk pace, it cannot withstand scrutiny by the audience, not today. And as Mame tells us from the get-go, “It’s Today”, when I’m not sue this show works at all. But deepen the relationships as much as possible, make these characters need each other, and keep things moving, and the show should be entertaining.