Hackney Empire, London – 23 September 2017
Guest reviewer: Rhys Scrivener
Mack and Mabel is based on the turbulent relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and his star Mabel Normand. The original 1974 Broadway musical starring Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston received eight Tony Award nominations but surprisingly not for Jerry Herman’s spectacular music and lyrics. It has a dazzling score, brimming with big band tunes, tremendous ballads and huge choral and orchestral numbers.
Set in Brooklyn in 1938 we are flashbacked to the time before talkies with Keystone Cops and Bathing Beauties. Mack, known as The King of Comedy clashes with Mabel’s desire to move to more serious drama.
As the audience settled into the iconic surroundings of the Hackney Empire, you could feel the anticipation of what the London Musical Theatre Orchestra had in store this time, following their concerts of Honeymoon in Vegas and Candide fresh in everyone’s minds.
The overture was sublime and a pure masterpiece of orchestral playing. Somehow it managed to have the dynamics of the Berlin Philharmonic, the subtlety of the Vienna Philharmonic and the mesmerising musicality of the London Philharmonic.
There was then only one question – How do you follow that? Well, Olivier award-winning David Bedella is how – a true all-rounder who captivated the audience with his portrayal of Mack Sennett from the off. I Won’t Send Roses was perfectly balanced and brought a tear to my eye. Natasha J Barnes as Mabel must surely be on her way to an Olivier at some point in the near future. Her character of Mabel was perfectly portrayed at every turn and her rendition of Time Heals Everything in the second act brought everyone to their feet and stopped the show – Every audience member had goosebumps as they knew they had just witnessed something truly special. Olivier himself would have been moved by the depth of emotions.
Liam Tamne went almost unnoticed until the second act when he sang the beginning of When Mabel Comes in the Room which brought the goosebumps back and me scuttling to the program to find out if he has recorded any solo albums.
Photo Credit Nick Rutter
Jack Edwards as Fatty Arbuckle provided some brilliant moments throughout the evening taking over as conductor at one point and his perfectly timed sigh at the thought that there would not be a gorilla in Mack Sennett’s next movie. Tiffany Graves provided a wonderful performance throughout and her number Tap your Troubles Away with tap dancers in the concert setting was brilliant.
It was difficult to find any fault with this perfect concert evening but there were a couple of small niggles. The sound of the snare drums in the first act left me wondering if the drummer was playing with an out of date kipper rather than a drum stick, which was a shame as the sound was otherwise perfect throughout the evening. The students of Bird College provided the bathing beauties and it was wonderful to see their obvious excitement in their faces as many of them were making their slightly East of their West End debut. However, if they are going to progress further into the world of musical theatre some of them will need to lose the stage school grin and concentrate more on ensuring their dance moves are precise enough to match the impeccable timing of the orchestra.
Photo Credit Nick Rutter
Freddie Tapner is a genius in creating the concert setting bringing together so many talented musicians and actors. Without the distraction of the staging and other elements of a standard production the concert environment allows you to be fully immersed in the brilliant music and stories many of these shows have to offer. It is like being lost in your favourite book. A magical evening showing the end result can be greater than the sum of the parts – and the LMTO has some amazingly talented parts.
Seriously, if you have not yet got the LMTO buzz you absolutely have to book your tickets for their next production of A Christmas Carol at The Lyceum on the 11th and 18th of December to experience an evening with Freddie Tapner and his London Musical Theatre Orchestra.
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