MACK & MABEL
book by Michael Stewart revised by Francine Pascal music and lyrics by Jerry Herman based on an idea by Leonard Spigelglass.
Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 25 August 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 July.
Scintillating showbiz values in latest attempt to get this show right.
It’s drummed into anyone in the field: what makes a great musical is the book. Sure, you’ll need the songs and the choreography. But at their greatest, without a good book the beast will limp along. The story’s gotta be clear, the characters believable. We need to see enough, yet not too much of them, and the songs have to take us forward in understanding what makes the characters, and hence their actions. Otherwise, you ain’t got a show; what you got, at best, is a concert.
Mack & Mabel’s weakness was identified as the book from its 1974 opening, and remains so in revised form. Hollywood director Mack Sennett’s time is passing (ironically the studio comes into the hands of his former assistant, silver screen feelgood king Frank Capra). But Sennett struggles on, while desperately seeking the ‘natural’ star he’s lost through negligence.
Mabel Normand was an outsider who barged into Sennett’s life and work, delivering pastries to the studio and staying on as his star. Yet he ignores her when new ideas strike, wondering why she leaves while he’s creating the Keystone Cops (they were very funny, while the film he was making with Mabel seems sentimental tosh).
A musical doesn’t need penetrating analysis (not everyone can be Stephen Sondheim), but the arc of the central relationship needs to be clear, as do any sudden plot shifts. With its revisions, and revisited by Southerland, this Mack & Mabel just about manages this through its first act. But narrative mayhem breaks out after the interval; there’s a sudden resort to third-person narration, a shot’s fired that affects Mabel, but it’s an out-of-the-blue, offstage moment never properly followed up. Well-known real-life characters like Capra and Fatty Arbuckle are never given proper focus.
What the production can do it does extremely well. Norman Bowman is a dedicated Mack, Laura Pitt-Pulford a Mabel to energise any scene, with the humanity her partner in celluloid lacks. And Lee Proud’s three big production numbers are sensational – the two bathing ones certainly, while the Keystone cops sequence hilariously choreographs the invention of a cinema tradition.
Mack Sennett: Norman Bowman.
Mabel Normand: Laura Pitt-Pulford.
Lottie Ames: Jessica Martin.
Frank Capra: Stuart Matthew Price.
Mr Kessell: Steven Serlin.
Fatty Arbuckle: Richard J Hunt.
Ela: Jody Ellen Robinson.
Eddie: Anthony Wise.
William Desmond Taylor: Peter Kenworthy.
Iris: Jessica Buckby.
Charlie: Ryan Gover.
Freddie: Paul Hutton.
Norma: Natalie Kent.
Wally: Jonathan Norman.
Phyllis: Nikki Schofield.
Director: Thom Southerland.
Designer/Costume: Jason Denvir.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Andrew Johnson.
Vocal arrangements/Musical Director: Michael Bradley.
Associate music director: Mark Aspinall.
Choreographer: Lee Proud.
Voice/Accent coach: Simon Money.
Dance Captain: Ryan Gover.
Assistant choreographer: Anthony Whiteman.
Assistant dance captain: Natalie Kent.