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THEATER REVIEW : ‘Mame’ Loses Its Kick in Alex Staging

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Mame” looks tired at the Alex Theatre. Let’s give her a rest.

We’re not talking about how Juliet Prowse looks in the title role. She looks sensational. She moves magnificently. She sings--badly, with an especially wobbly lower range and uncertain intonation. But two out of three ain’t bad.

No, we’re talking about the show itself. To borrow a phrase from the title song, “Mame” no longer charms the husk right off the corn.

The book, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, takes it for granted that everyone should adore the title character almost to the point of idol worship. This culminates in the big number at the end of Act 1, when her name is repeated about a million times, like a mantra, in Jerry Herman’s lyric.

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The backdrop in this number, a depiction of a star or a sun from which rays of light flow, contributes to the feeling that we’re at some sort of a coronation or even a canonization. Yet the scene actually depicts Mame’s unlikely triumph at a fox hunt on her suitor’s plantation and his subsequent proposal. It’s one of the silliest sketches in musical theater, one that takes “Mame” down to the level of the “Lady Astronomer” show that’s lampooned in the script.

OK, Mame gave great parties, and she took in her young nephew. Swell. Then she virtually abandoned the kid through most of Act 2, only to go out of her way to break up his impending nuptials near play’s end. Does he resent her for any of this? Not much--Mame never takes the blame.

Mame’s adversities are depicted as mere hangnails. She loses all her money in the Depression--but she keeps her Beekman Place penthouse. “Mame” makes its immediate precursor, “Hello, Dolly,” seem deep.

Herman’s score contains rousing numbers, but many of them actually create more drama when they’re performed outside the context of the show itself. That context is so shallow that it diminishes the songs. This is especially true of the great “If He Walked Into My Life.”

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Prowse’s voice just wasn’t up to that song on Saturday, nor did her performance take it anywhere beyond the usual Mame-style posing. Then again, the sound quality wasn’t nearly as good as it was at a performance of “Sayonara,” the Alex’s first musical, in February. Steven Smith’s pit band overwhelmed the lyrics too often, especially in the delicate “My Best Girl.”

John Christian Graas, a Glendale native, is a ray of light as the young Patrick Dennis, but his successor in the older stages of the role, Ted Deasy, is out of his league. Marsha Kramer is a lovable Miss Gooch, and Gretchen Wyler goes skillfully through Vera Charles’ second-banana shtick. Peter Kwong has to speak the annoying pidgin English of Mame’s Japanese servant.

Bob Mackie designed Prowse’s glamorous outfits. But the rest of the costumes are credited to Eaves Brooks Costume Co., with the sets coming from Southwest Scenic. A real personal touch, right?

Perhaps it was decided that “Mame” simply isn’t worth rethinking. John Bowab, who has directed as many as 20 women in this role, apparently saw no need to tinker, and the results look as if they came off an assembly line.

“Mame,” Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends April 24. $10-$42. (800-233-3123) . Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

A Theatre Corp. of America production. Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play “Auntie Mame” by Lawrence and Lee. Music-lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed by John Bowab. Musical director Steven Smith. Onna White’s choreography re-created by Jonathan Charles. Lighting by Clarke W. Thornton. Sound supervisor Frederick W. Boot. Hair wigs by K. Wojnowski. Production stage manager B. J. Allen.


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