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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Mame’ Is the Name of Spirited Downey Civic Light Opera Revival

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anyone today who does not know Mame Dennis--well, they’ve just been going to the wrong parties. Or the wrong musicals.

Mame is something special. And there are some special things in the Downey Civic Light Opera’s revival of “Mame,” the Jerome Lawrence-Robert E. Lee-Jerry Herman musical version of Patrick Dennis’ enduring story about the outlandish lady who takes in her young nephew and “opens windows” for him.

There also are some things that are not so special about the production. Last Friday night there was an immense problem with the sound system, which did not work properly until near the end of the first act. But diminished voices, often overpowered by the orchestra, fought valiantly, and by the time the sound found itself, the company had the audience in its pocket.

The combined energy of Lynda Hershey, a crisp, well-honed Mame, and Gabriel Kalomas, a big voice attached to an ingratiating grin as young Patrick, gives the production the spark that keeps the familar score fresh. Hershey’s broad strokes are just right for the bright colors of her characterization, and Kalomas’ confident style is right on the button.

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The third star of this “Mame” is conductor Warren Marsh, who makes his orchestra sound as though it just popped out of a Broadway pit. He matches the spirit of this Mame and Patrick.

Although his dances do not have the classy originality they could have (his dancers could handle more intricacy and splash), choreographer Ted Sprague knows his tempos and keeps his company to them.

Sprague slips only a couple of times in allowing performances by Pamela Benz as Gloria Upson and Terra Shelman as Sally Cato to go beyond simple overplaying to outrageous caricature that destroys the character-based humor written into the roles. These two should listen to the laughs that Linda Lebel gets as Agnes Gooch, by going just to the edge of overboard, but holding back before she falls over. Lebel knows where to draw the line, and can belt a show tune (“Gooch’s Song”) with the best of them.

Penny Hayes is sometimes tempted to too much broadness as Vera, the very first lady of the theater, but holds back enough to get honest laughs. Chris Thomas, as the older but not always wiser Patrick, also scores high with a fine open voice and a winning personality, as does Mark Ashby as Mame’s plantation-bred Beau.

Pat Lach and Nick Menecola are thankfully restrained as the Upsons, along with Bob Willard, as Dwight Babcock, and Sean Faulkner as Lindsay Woolsey. Particularly good as Pegeen, Patrick’s love after he wises up, is Kathleen Baldwin, pretty, real and just effervescent enough.

The costumes by Georga Burton and Marge Jacobs look good across the board, and John Stamper’s lighting works just fine. Wherever the uncredited settings came from, they are OK except for Mame’s Manhattan apartment, which is too vast--the large chorus would work more as a unit if there were fewer feet in which to spread out.


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