Friday, 20 July 2012

Mack and Mabel - review

Written by: Anna "Spanner" Jones (@Now4567Anna)

Southwark Playhouse, London

With collectively brilliant performances, a sharp newly revised script (Francine Pascal) and score, Mack and Mabel at the Southwark Playhouse proves that this production is one of Jerry Herman’s best works and deserves a higher place in the Musical Theatre hall of fame. Directed with superb intelligence by Thom Sutherland who in his directors note confesses to “falling in love” with the piece long ago, Mack and Mabel proves to be a tragic, passionate, funny, poignant musical with lots of heart and an involving, extremely moving plot.

Based on the true story of Mack Sennett (Norman Bowman) a silent movie director of the 1900s and Mabel Normand (Laura Pitt-Pulford), the actress who is plucked from obscurity by Mack when barging in on his film set delivering a “hot knockwurst on a roll”, the plot charts their turbulent relationship against the changing world of cinema in America. Pitt-Pulford gives a breath-taking turn as Mabel, vocals are flawless and her performance is surely one of the finest currently on a professional London stage. Her rendition of “Time Heals Everything” is charged with entirely believable desperation and desolation, and should be a benchmark for aspiring Musical Theatre actresses.  Bowman also shines as the brooding, handsome, fiercely driven movie-maker Mack and handles his character’s complex mix of desires and motivations extremely well; his conflict between caring for the woman he loves and his savage pursuit of making movies is performed impeccably.

Choreography by Lee Proud is dazzling, executed with style and pizazz by the small ensemble of six and the rest of the cast in larger numbers such as “Hundreds of Girls”. Most impressive is the Keystone Cops sequence “Hit ‘Em On the Head” which is a triumph of physical comedy and dance. Jessica Martin as the “broken down hoofer” Lottie Ames leads the sensational tap number; “Tap Your Troubles Away” and Sutherland has made the excellent decision to give the outsider storytelling roles to Lottie and browbeaten writer Frank Capra (Stuart Matthew Price) instead of Mack as is the case in the original 1974 version.

Music newly arranged by Iain Vince-Gatt (Musical Supervisor) and Michael Bradley (Musical Director/Vocal Arrangements), is buzzing with life and the memorable melodies are all given a new lease of life with exceptional vocals from the chorus. In short Mack and Mabel is a must-see, and a credit to the work of the production team and cast as a whole. Go and see it, and then see it again.

Book by Michael Stewert
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Revised by Francine Pascal 
Based on an idea by Leonard Spigelglass

Mack and Mabel runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 25th August 2012. 

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