Mack & Mabel Review: Theatre Online

Mack and Mabel was written by Michael Stewart and has music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The plot involves a romantic relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, who became one of his biggest stars. In a series of flashbacks, Sennett relates the glory days of Keystone Studios from 1911, when he discovered Normand and cast her in dozens of his early “two-reelers”, through his creation of Sennett’s Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Cops, to Mabel’s death from tuberculosis in 1930.

This can be described as a “big musical” with spectacular singing and dance routines, sparkling costumes, a good story with strong character parts. Tonight, CTc showed all this off, in style.

Photo courtesy of Betty Gamble Photography

There are very strong performances from Gareth Wynne as Mack Sennett, the obsessed silent film maker and his discovery Mabel Normand, played superbly by Holly Easter. Together they portray a formidable pair and both inhabit their respective roles with empathy and conviction. Opening the show with one of the big numbers of the show “Movies were Movies” Gareth showed off his great expressive voice. Then when the large ensemble joined it was one of those opening songs that gets one’s toes tapping, a real spectacle. Holly is equally brilliant in the singing department (lovely dancing too) and portrays Mabel with great sass, but also sensitivity. I loved her performances of “Look What Happened to Mabel” and “Mabel’s Roses”

The rest of the principal cast support really well, showing that this company has a range of talented performers. They were; Ollie Lewin (Frank) who gave a solid performance as the film writer, Jack Hardy (Mr Baumann – the backer), Jordan Cope ( the second backer), Jarrodd Makin (William Desmond Taylor), Carl Unwin (Fatty Arbuckle), Craig Butterworth (Andy), Anita Benson (Ella), Vicky Mee (Iris), Amy McMurray (Phyllis Foster) and Guy Benson (The Watchman)

In addition to the above there is a superb ensemble who sing well and are involved in some very energetic dance numbers. I will not give too much away, but just have to say that the routine in the second act involving The Keystone Cops is one of the best amateur dance and gymnastic routines I have ever seen. There is also an excellent tap routine “Tap your troubles away.” It is outstanding. The choreography by Michael Gamble is, as usual, very apt and exciting and very well danced by all the cast.

The Ensemble is: Bobbie Da”Bell, Rowan Dixon, Neil Ledward, Laura Moore, Aaron Murray, Hannah Osgood, David Perkins, Julie Robinson, Jayne Sanderson, Alison Darlow-Carter, Louise Smith, Mel Swift and Laura Tindle.

The production team have certainly once again brought a cast of CTc to a very high standard of performance. They are Julie Easter (Director), Vicki Hing (Musical Director), Michael Gamble (choreographer) and Frankie Johnson (Tap Choreographer).

The 19-piece orchestra is superb and despite its size never dominates the performers. It really is exceptional and great to listen to. This show is in the old style with a good lengthy overture, which I liked very much. This is enhanced by great sound design and production by Rob Temperton (assisted by Harry Bridge) – I could hear every word that was spoken or sung. The Lighting is also an important part of the show and Robert Bridges does a very good job with it.

The set is very appropriate, and the costumes are charmingly accurate for the early 1900 – 1930 period. The girls’ costumes in the tap routine are striking. Scene changes are swift thanks to good stage management by Adrian Wray, Lynne Leeming and their team, assisted often by cast members. That, I think, always helps to keep a show moving.

There are some great songs in this show, some of which did remind me of another Herman classic “Hello Dolly.” That was particularly the case with the opening number of Act 2 “When Mabel Comes in the Room.” Think of the arrival of Dolly to the Harmonia Gardens! I really enjoyed that routine, which was a highlight of many for me in this production.

This is an excellent production of a show that can sometimes be little slow in parts. However, CTc kept it moving well and deserved an enthusiastic ovation at the end of the evening with some standing.

I certainly can recommend going to see Mack and Mabel and I think it will “Tap your Troubles Away”, as it did for me – even though the ending of this true story is poignant and sad.

Mack and Mabel continues at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday.

Theatre Online Star Rating (5) ✯✯✯✯✯

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