Postview: Mack and Mabel (Chichester Festival Theatre)

In Musicals, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

This is not the first time Michael Ball has been energetically mounted in Chichester.  However, it may be the last as CFT director Jonathan Church leaves to head up the Sydney Theatre Company. I find it’s not wise to visit regional theatre alone, so was able to ask a willing companion what she thought of the show: […]

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MACK AND MABEL – Chichester Festival Theatre

In Musicals, Regional theatre, Reviews, Touring by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

This is a tale of romance and of the lure of cinema: tricky on the stage. Mack Sennet, a clownish film director, is losing his beloved star, Mabel Normand, to the dreaded, meatier features. He leaves the emotion and the drama to the other directors, he says: DW Griffiths and the like. The issue is that, as Sennet would have wanted, Mack and Mabel is all performance and little gut. Extremely talented people are behind this production, but the material they chose does them little favours.

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MABEL’S WILFUL WAY – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

As Mack and Mabel previews at Chichester Festival Theatre (to be reviewed here next week), I chanced upon a DVD of one of Mack Sennett’s famous two-reelers, Mabel’s Wilful Way, made in 1915. Not surprisingly the DVD came with no accompanying press release and  nor did the movie itself list any credits. Even so, this short film (13 mins) provides a fascinating glimpse into the Tinseltown of 100 years ago. 

Mabel’s Wilful Way (1915)

Directed by Mack Sennett and Mabel NormandProduced by Adam Kessel and Charles Bauman for the Keystone Studios

Mabel’s Wilful Way is a two-reeler that unusually was directed by both Mack Sennett and his (and the movie’s) glamorous star, Mabel Normand. Set in an amusement park its mischief defined the comedy of the era.
We first meet Mabel dining with her parents in the park restaurant. Her moustachioed father and celery-eating, domineering mother are formally clad, as is Normand herself. When the chance arises, Mabel slips away from her parents’ stern control and in chapter two of the tale, entitled Short Funded Pals, she meets two young miscreants, one played by Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle who are sneaking their way onto the park attractions as they have no cash. 
To say too much would spoil the story, but Sennet and Normand set out to entertain as the three young people embark on an afternoon of stolen fun. Ice creams are pilfered, carousels joy ridden and water fountains and food are frequently aimed at hapless individuals’ faces. Watch the film and think of Jerry Herman’s Mack singing I Wanna Make the World Laugh and you start to get an understanding of how brilliantly crafted some of Herman’s writing was.
The excellence on screen is of course from the actors and the performances that the director has coaxed from them. By definition there is no sound to a silent movie, so aside from the occasional written captions, all emotion and interaction be it love, comedy, anger or ridicule has to be conveyed through movement and facial expression. And in that regard the performances are genius. There was no “easy way” in those days (a parallel today might be the growth of CGI in cinema, replacing what would previously have required carefully crafted physical photography) and whilst the later Hollywood classics of Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Singin’ In The Rain (1952) were to portray two very different sides of fictional silent-era movie stars, both Norma Desmond and Lina Lamont represented an era when a very different set of demands and expectations was placed upon a performer. 
Mabel’s Wilful Way includes scenes of Normand and Arbuckle feeding what appears to be a genuine bear and later larking around on a helterskelter, the rotund actor generating considerable momentum on his descent, to maximum comic effect. Their behaviour soon attracts the attention of the LA Police Department, who arrive on the scene administering justice with frequent truncheon blows to the head and body. Let’s not forget that in the early 20th century Keystone police brutality was a source of comedy. 
Viewed through a modern prism, the movie is troubling. There is one black character in the tale whose role is to put his head through a hole in a board and have soaked sponges thrown at him in much the same way as balls are thrown at a coconut shy. Even worse, (worse?) he is played by a white actor in black slap. 1915 was the Vaudeville era of the racist minstrel show. The civil rights movement was a long way off and in a largely segregated America, the black man was a laughing stock – an aspect of history that Jerry Herman conveniently side-stepped. 
Herman’s Mack Sennett sings that Movies Were Movies when he ran the show – albeit a show built on racial prejudice, comical police brutality and an abuse of animal welfare. Since then Hollywood has largely cleaned up its act though as recent tragic events elsewhere in the USA remind us, America still has some way to go.

Time Heals Everything? Let’s hope so……

Mabel’s Wilful Way is available free on YouTube here

JERRY’S GIRLS – Jermyn Street Theatre

In Cabaret, London theatre, Musicals, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Jermyn Street Theatre, London

****

Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Concepts by Larry Alford, Wayne Cilento and Jerry Herman
Directed by Kate Golledge

(l-r) Sarah-Louise Young, Emma Barton and Ria Jones
Drawn from the shows of Jerry Herman, Jerry’s Girls is a delightful cabaret that in the hands of three talented ladies, offers a whirl of show tunes that thoroughly deserves its hastily arranged return visit to Jermyn Street  Emma Barton, Ria Jones and Sarah-Louise Young are magnificent throughout, working their way through a set list that was originally put together for a Broadway revue back in the 1980’s. The compilation is rarely seen over here and credit to producers Katy Lipson and Guy James for having the ingenuity to have mounted it so successfully.
With perhaps the exception of Milk and Honey, the numbers are all familiar to musical theatre lovers and the combination of gloriously powerful belts intermingled with moments of the purest poignancy make for an evening that would be an emotional rollercoaster were it not all so ridiculously enjoyable. All of Herman’s big shows get a look in, with Barton’s Mabel in Wherever He Ain’t channelling an exquisite vocal presence that also suggests just a hint of Albert Square! From the same show, Young and Jones give a gorgeous and perfectly weighted nuance to I Won’t Send Roses. 
Herman’s humour sparkles, never wittier than in a song he wrote for the revue, Take It All Off, that wonderfully spoofs burlesque stripping. Again there is fabulous work from Young with Jones being disarmingly (and hilariously) self-deprecating as a stripper whose best years are behind her. 
There are nods to Hello Dolly throughout, with the show ending on a powerful tribute to all that La Cage Aux Folles stood for. Grins along with lumps-in-throats all round.
Kate Golledge directs assuredly, with an entertaining eye for detail. Matthew Cole choreographs cleverly too given the venue’s intimacy and that Tap Your Troubles Away evolved into all three women tap-dancing, accompanied by pianist and MD Edward Court and his reed and mandolin playing partner Sophie Byrne on their feet too, (both fabulous musicians to boot) only added to the wondrous sparkle of the occasion. My one regret was not having discovered this gem of a show sooner so I could have had the opportunity to have returned to see it again.
Jerry’s Girls is only playing until May 31st. Barely lasting two hours, it offers West End entertainment at a fraction of a typical West End price. If you love what Broadway, Streisand, Merman & co were/are all about, then you’ll come out grinning. Go see this show!

Runs until 31st May

Jerry’s Girls – Review

In Cabaret by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

St James Studio, London****Created by Jerry Herman and Larry AlfordDirected by Kate GolledgeSarah-Louise Young, Anna-Jane Casey and Ria JonesAfter the relative failure of Mack & Mabel on Broadway, Jerry Herman took a break from composition and embr…

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Review: Mack and Mabel (Southwark Playhouse)

In Musicals, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

Just what IS wrong with Mack and Mabel, the silent-film-era musical with songs by the great Jerry Herman? Sometimes trailed as ‘the best score never to come from a hit musical’ it just doesn’t seem to thrive – even the 1974 Broadway original starring Bernadette Peters almost instantly received 8 Tony nomination but survived only the […]

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Review: Mack and Mabel (Southwark Playhouse)

In Musicals, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

Just what IS wrong with Mack and Mabel, the silent-film-era musical with songs by the great Jerry Herman? Sometimes trailed as ‘the best score never to come from a hit musical’ it just doesn’t seem to thrive – even the 1974 Broadway original starring Bernadette Peters almost instantly received 8 Tony nomination but survived only the […]

The post Review: Mack and Mabel (Southwark Playhouse) appeared first on JohnnyFox.