From St. George on down, Stoneham’s ‘Mame’ shines
STONEHAM – Kathy St. George is the theatrical version of a hometown hero, and has returned several times to Stoneham since the Stoneham Theatre re-opened as a theatrical space in 2000.
But she’s never had a homecoming quite like this one. St. George is a dynamo as the title character in the theater’s production of the musical “Mame,” a triumphant performance by the petite performer with plenty of pizzazz.
The part plays to all of St. George’s considerable strengths as a performer, and when you combine that with the fact she happens to be one of the local theater community’s favorite people, she begins each performance with a likability factor that is almost off the charts.
She captures perfectly Mame Dennis’ joie de vivre as a woman enjoying a bohemian, live-for-today lifestyle in 1920s New York, beating back the Great Depression with sheer spunk and spirit in a show that expresses the themes of tolerance and respect for differences, qualities that weren’t always the norm in the 1920s or even when the musical debuted in 1966.
Mame Dennis lives by a simple philosophy: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” When impressionable young nephew Patrick Dennis (Cameron Levesque) arrives on his aunt’s doorstep accompanied by a nanny named Agnes Gooch (Ceit Zweil), Mame does her best to imbue in Patrick her philosophy about life.
That philosophy leads to a confrontation with Dwight Babcock (Sean McGuirk), the conservative trustee appointed by the late Edwin Dennis to oversee his son’s affairs after his death. Babcock is flummoxed when young Patrick has apparently been trained to mix a perfect martini.
There are fine, confident performances by Levesque as Young Patrick and Matty Rickard as the Older Patrick; Rickard also serves as dance captain for the energetic ensemble, which puts polish, spit and shine on a series of production numbers overseen by director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins.
In recent years, St. George has only sporadically had the chance to show off her voice in vehicles such as her IRNE-winning 2012 turn in “Dear Miss Garland” at Stoneham or the long-running “Menopause, the Musical.”
Here she makes the heartbreakingly beautiful and plaintive ballad “If He Walked Into My Life” her own, and sparkles in her scenes with Mary Callanan as the besotted actress Vera Charles. St. George doesn’t have to manufacture the chemistry with Callanan, a longtime friend with whom she shares the anthem “Bosom Buddies.”
Robbins has assembled a solid supporting cast. While Will McGarrahan doesn’t quite capture the Southern charm of Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, he fares better later as the bigoted father of the Older Patrick’s fiancee Gloria Upson (Sarah Kawalek).
Margaret Ann Brady scores twice, as Beauregard’s mother, skeptical of her son’s Yankee infatuation and later as Mrs. Upson, scandalized by Mame’s eclectic assortment of friends.
Robert Saoud always contributes a few laughs, here as the weary, aging-by-the-minute butler Tanner.
Ceit Zweil has authored a series of fine comedic performances at Stoneham, and she adds another as Gooch, who after being urged by Mame and Vera to go out and live, decides to do just that before having to retreat in shame to Mame’s apartment.
Herman, the only composer-lyricist to have three shows that ran for more than 1,500 performances on Broadway, authored an enduring Christmas classic in “We Need a Little Christmas” as well as the show’s popular title tune. He’s also had the good sense to reprise in the score three of its best numbers: “Open a New Window,” “My Best Girl,” and “It’s Today.”
Robbins has under her belt 16 Stoneham productions as director, co-director, and/or choreographer, and her knowledge of the intimate space allows her to get the maximum bang for the buck when putting together the production numbers here, just she she did in such Stoneham successes as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,”
Besides Rickard, the ensemble includes Katie Anne Clark, Serge Clivio, Meryl Galaid, Sarah Kawalek, Sarah Mass, Brian Pereira, Rhys Scheibe, Hannah Shihdanian and young Izzy Richards, an 18-year-old Wilmington High senior making the jump to the theater’s mainstage from its young company program.
The 1920s art deco style set by Katheryn Montei captures the time and place well, Tyler Kinney’s costumes are Roaring 20s glamorous, and music director Matthew Stern capably heads an energetic seven-piece ensemble.
This “Mame” is bright and bouncy, a shiny Christmas bulb, and the light shines brightly from St. George on down through the entire cast. To paraphrase a song in the show, we need a little “Mame” right now.
The Stoneham Theatre production of “Mame.” Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play “Auntie Mame” by Lawrence and Lee. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Through Dec. 23 at the Stoneham Theatre. Stonehamtheatre.com