- Mack & Mabel
name=Mack and Mabel
caption=Original Broadway Recording
book= Michael Stewart
2006West End revival
The plot has as its origin the tumultuous relationship between
Hollywooddirector Mack Sennettand Mabel Normand(transformed from an artist's model to a waitress from Flatbush, Brooklynfor the musical), who became one of his biggest stars. In a series of flashbacks, Sennett relates the glory days of Keystone Studiosfrom 1911, when he discovered Normand and cast her in dozens of his early "two-reelers", through his invention of Sennett's Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Copsto Mabel's death from tuberculosisin 1930.
Although the show's original production did not catch on, subsequent productions, especially in Britain and Canada, have had success.
The show had pre-Broadway tryouts in
San Diegoand then Los Angeles, opening to rave reviews and brisk box office sales in both cities. Buoyed by the critical acclaim and initial public enthusiasm for the show, Herman and company ignored a number of critical warning signs.
Neither Sennett nor Normand were particularly lovable characters, and their story was darker than that usually found in a musical. Robert Preston (as Sennett) was too old for
Bernadette Peters(Mabel), and their characters lacked chemistry. ["Broadway, the Golden Years: Jerome Robbins and the Great Choreographers" (2003), Robert Emmet Long, p. 211, Continuum InternationalPublishing Group, ISBN 0826413471] Director and choreographer Gower Championdevised a number of eye-catching visual effects and spectacular dance sequences, but their brightness proved to be too great a contrast with the somber mood of the piece. His concept of setting the action in the corner of a huge studio soundstage created problems with the set and limited the staging to the extent that it was seen as static and boring. [Citron, p. 198] Most importantly, audiences didn't want to invest two-and-a-half hours in a musical where the heroine dies tragically at the end.
Efforts were made to resolve the problems at
The Munyin St. Louis, but this venue was a "terrible mistake." Because The Muny was so large, the performers overplayed and pulled the show out of shape. By the Washington, D.C. Kennedy Centerengagement, "nothing was working", and Champion changed the staging of scenes that had previously worked. [Citron, p. 200] By the time the show opened at the Majestic Theatreon Broadway on October 6 1974, it was less successful than it had been four months earlier. Reviews ranged from fair to middling, ["Before the Parade Passes by: Gower Champion and the Glorious American Musical" (2005), John Anthony Gilvey, p. 253, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312337760] and the show closed after only 66 performances, Herman's first major flop.
Despite the reviews and short run, the show received eight
Tony Awardnominations - for the book, direction, set and costume design, choreography, lead actor, lead actress, and the production itself as Best Musical. Herman - whose melodic score had received the best notices - was not nominated. Herman was deeply disappointed, since the project had been one of his favorites (and remains so, even now), and he felt producer David Merrickhad done little to promote it, saying "He never invested in advertising. He never came to the theatre." [Gilvey, p. 253] Despite its failure, the show has developed a cult following. ["Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune" (2004), Stephen Citron, p. 202, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300100825]
In 1982, when British ice-skating team
Torvill and Deanwon the gold medalfor ice dance in the World Figure Skating Championships, they performed to the overture from the original cast album. The event was broadcast by BBC Television, and the station was inundated with calls from viewers wanting to know where they could find the music. Demand was so great that the album was re-released in the UK, where it shot to #6 on the charts, unprecedented for a show album, especially one ten years old.
Interest was such that in 1988, a one-time concert version - featuring
George Hearn, Georgia Brown and Tommy Tune- was staged for charity at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Despite ecstatic reviews, it wasn't until seven years later, on November 7 1995, that a full-scale production opened at the Piccadilly Theatrein London, and ran for 270 performances. The book had been dramatically revised, and now had a happy ending, with Mabel back in Mack's arms at the final curtain. The cast, directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by Michael Smuin, included Howard McGillinas Mack and Caroline O'Connor as Mabel, Kathryn Evans, and Alan Mosley. [ [http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117910446.html?categoryid=31&cs=1 "Variety" review of 1995 London production, Nov. 13, 1995] ]
The show was revived once again at the
Watermill Theatre, Newbury in England. David Soulstarred alongside Anna Jane Casey (replaced by Janie Dee in the West End production) in the small scale production (with only eleven performers), which ran for a limited season between March and June 2005. [ [http://www.newburytheatre.co.uk/archive/200505a.htm Newbury Theatre reviews, 2005] ] The show did not end there however, as it toured the UK from January 2006 prior to a West End transfer, where it played the Criterion Theatrefrom April 10 2006until July 1 2006. It featured the trademark style of director John Doyle, with the cast members, except for Soul, playing musical instruments as well as acting and singing. [ [http://www.curtainup.com/mackandmabellond.html Curtain Up review, Criterion Theatre, April 11, 2006] ]
More recently, the show was produced at the
Shaw FestivalTheatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Directed by Molly Smith, this production eliminated the use of projected film as called for in the script. Instead, monochromatic costumes and special lighting are used to produce the effect of silent film while using live actors on stage. The result is a seamless blend between silent film scenes, and full color. Shaw's presentation is the first full production in Canada and was in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 28, 2007. [ [http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117933639.html?categoryid=33&cs=1 "Variety" review of Shaw Festival production, May 15, 2007] ] Broadway Theatre, Catfordis preparing a production for November 2008, led by Resident Director Thom Southerland. [ [http://www.broadwaytheatre.org.uk/category.php?cat=8#441 The Broadway Theatre, Catford.] ] Southerland assisted John Doyleon his 2005-2006 production. [ [http://www.thomsoutherland.co.uk/about.htm Thom Southerland, personal website] ]
Silent moviedirector Mack Sennet returns to his old film studio in Brooklyn in 1938. Things have changed considerably since he was last there -- he sees a group of actors shooting a scene for a talkie. Mack reminisces about "when he ran the show", the glorious era of silent movies, with references to his Bathing Beauties and Keystone Cops("Movies Were Movies").
A series of flashbacks returns Mack to 1911, and chronicles the story of Mack's involvement - both professionally and romantically - with one of the biggest stars of his movies, Mabel Normand. When Mabel, a delicatessen worker, delivers a sandwich to Lottie, the actress that Mack is filming, Lottie is unable to pay, and Mabel reacts violently. Mabel's behaviour catches Mack's eye, and he thinks she has potential as an actress. He offers her a part in his next film. She initially refuses, but when she looks back on the offer, she is dazzled by the career prospects ("Look What Happened To Mabel").
Mabel is very successful, and later, along with Mack's two accountants, Kleiman and Fox, who are helping to finance his projects, the film company moves to a new, larger studio ("Big Time"). Meanwhile, Mabel has become attracted to Mack. When he comes up behind her while reciting an improvised poem, Mabel invites him into her train compartment for a meal. Things escalate, and Mabel persuades a very reluctant Mack to take part in a mock wedding ceremony. But Mack has no time for romance ("I Won't Send Roses"), and, when he wakes up the next morning in bed with Mabel, he leaves in a hurry. Mabel, out of her love for Mack, resolves to do things his way ("I Won't Send Roses" (Reprise)).
Eventually, Mabel wants to move on from comedy to star in some serious dramas. But Mack is only interested in comedy ("I Wanna Make The World Laugh") and tries to discourage her. Mabel meets another movie director, the smooth-talking William Desmond Taylor, who charms Mabel and agrees to cast her in serious roles. After a fiery argument with Mack, Mabel dresses in her best clothes and puts on make-up, then goes off to dinner with Taylor and finally leaves Mack altogether ("Wherever He Ain't"). Mack is confident that he can manage without Mabel. He made a star out of one ordinary girl, and he can make a star out of another. This results in his creation of the Bathing Beauties ("Hundreds of Girls").
Mabel eventually returns to Mack of her own accord and is welcomed with open arms by the entire film company ("When Mabel Comes In The Room"). Mack agrees to film Mabel's new, serious drama, "Molly", at his studio. But he attempts to jazz it up with a new comic creation, The Keystone Cops ("Hit 'Em On The Head"), and she returns to Taylor. Later, Mack sees Mabel again as she is preparing to embark on a ship with Taylor. Taylor shows up and Mack leaves, then Taylor, sensing that Mabel might still have feelings for Mack, persuades Mabel, who is complaining of tiredness, to take heroin, saying it is a pick-me-up, which works with the magic words, "Bye, Mack!". Mabel is still in love with Mack, in spite of everything he has done to her ("Time Heals Everything").
Back at the studio, a happy Mack has realized the potential of sound in his movies, with singing and dancing. Lottie Ames, another actress in Mack's company, has become a star following Mabel's demise, while Mabel has become a full-time drug addict ("Tap Your Troubles Away"), and her reputation is ruined. To add further injury, her lover, William Desmond Taylor, is murdered. By the time Mack is willing to try to patch things up between him and Mabel, it is too late - she's dead. But musicals must end happily, so Mack imagines a happier ending to their story ("I Promise You A Happy Ending").
* Movies Were Movies - Mack
* Look What Happened to Mabel - Mabel and Company
* Big Time - Lottie Ames and Company
* I Won't Send Roses - Mack and Mabel
* I Wanna Make the World Laugh - Mack and Company
* Wherever He Ain't - Mabel
* Hundreds of Girls - Mack and Bathing Beauties;Act II
* When Mabel Comes In the Room - Company
* My Heart Leaps Up/Hit 'em on the Head - Mack
* Time Heals Everything - Mabel
* Tap Your Troubles Away - Lottie and Company
* I Promise You a Happy Ending - Mack
* Mack Sennet — A workaholic movie director
* Mabel Normand — A deli delivery girl who becomes a movie star
* Frank Wyman — An actor/writer, and later a director
* Lottie Ames — A silent movie star
* William Desmond Taylor — A "serious" director
* Fatty — A physical comedian/actor
* Ella — Mack's pianist
* Kleiman - An accountant
* Fox - His partner
* Eddie — The watchman
Subsequent revisions of the show have changed some character names
Tony Awardfor Best Musical
* Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical
* Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical (Robert Preston)
* Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Bernadette Peters)
* Tony Award for Best Scenic Design
* Tony Award for Best Costume Design
* Tony Award for Best Choreography
* Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical
Drama Desk Awardfor Outstanding Music and Lyrics
* Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Robert Preston)
* Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Bernadette Peters)
*"Showtune: A Memoir by Jerry Herman", with Marilyn Stasio, published by Donald I. Fine Books (an imprint of
Penguin Books), 1996
* [http://www.musicalheaven.com/m/mack__mabel.shtml Information from the Musical Heaven website]
* [http://www.stageagent.com/shows.php?id=1084 Profile of the show]
* [http://www.dmtc.co.uk/mackandmabel_synopsis.htm Detailed plot synopsis]
* [http://www.shawfest.com/web/content.asp?docid=1_3_2_1 Mack and Mabel at the Shaw Festival]
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