Theater review: ‘Mame’ at HART Theatre

IT’S ALL RELATIVE: Lyn Donley stars as the free-spirited Mame Dennis, whose life takes an unexpected turn when her orphaned nephew comes to live with her. The musical is currently onstage at HART Theatre. Photo courtesy of HART
IT’S ALL RELATIVE: Lyn Donley stars as the free-spirited Mame Dennis, whose life takes an unexpected turn when her orphaned nephew comes to live with her. The musical is currently onstage at HART Theatre. Photo courtesy of HART

The unconventional life of oddball partyer Mame Dennis (played by Lyn Donley) is shaken up when, after her brother-in-law passes away, she’s entrusted with her young nephew, Patrick (Andrew Delbene). Through song, we follow the ups and downs of their amusing journey in the Tony Award-winning musical Mame, onstage at HART Theatre through Sunday, July 29.

The musical is based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. It quickly became a Broadway play, and the popular movie version soon followed. That film earned the charming Rosalind Russell, who had also starred in the Broadway hit, an Oscar nomination. The successful musical version was later realized in 1966 but was ultimately a major flop on the big screen. Nonetheless, the show lives on as a classic staple for the theatrical stage.

Director Steve Lloyd, who also makes a nice cameo, chose to cast HART favorite Donley in the title role. It requires an enormous amount of pizzazz and, for the most part, the production’s energy wanes around her. However, when she really pushes herself, her voice hits the rafters nicely, leaving a positive impression.

It’s the great supporting performances that define this production. Janice Schreiber as the lush Vera Charles is outstanding. She has the zeal required for a kitschy show like this and is strongly reminiscent of Patti LuPone. The song “Bosom Buddies” with Schreiber and Donley is, as it should be, a high point.

Karen Covington-Yow plays Agnes Gooch with a timid showiness, which isn’t easy to pull off. Agnes, the nanny and secretary for Mame, undergoes a revitalizing makeover and becomes pregnant out of wedlock. This leads to the play’s biggest attempt at having a message. Thankfully, Covington-Yow doesn’t wither away in the scene, and we are able to consider the unfair shaming that is often placed on women.

Ryan Albinus is absolutely terrific as Mame’s houseboy, Ito. With his cool vibe and smooth sexiness, he steals every scene he’s in. Had Albinus been given more to do, we could have seen the story in the background through his eyes.

Both Delbene and Matthew Harper, playing younger and older iterations of Patrick, do satisfying jobs. They are a perfect visual pairing. However, as the play progresses, we somehow don’t feel the heart-tugging moments of fading adolescence as deeply as we should. Other players that stand out of the large ensemble were the comedic Alex Likens and Stephen A. Gonya, as well as the fleeting but memorable Allison Stinson as Mother Burnside.

To be honest, it is almost incomprehensible that the original play was formed into a musical to begin with, as the story does not scream for such a transformation. However, there are some famed songs that can deliver the goods, and this production’s live orchestra, led by musical director Sarah Fowler, is worth the viewing alone. There’s also some impressive scenic art by Lyle Baskin.

This jazzy production manages to miss the coming-of-age aspect that makes Mame stick with us. However, it is flamboyant, and there is certainly enough for audience members to feast their eyes on.

WHAT: Mame
WHERE: Haywood Arts Regional Theatre 250, Pigeon St., Waynesville, harttheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 29. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. $27.82

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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