Review: Mame (Light Opera Works)

| August 24, 2016

Zachary Scott Fewkes and Nancy Hays as Patrick and Mame, Light Opera Works          


By Jerry Herman (music, lyrics)
Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee (book) 
at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson (map)
thru Aug 28  |  tix: $34-$94   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Jerry Herman’s classic musical looks and sounds great


Nancy Hays as Mame Dennis and ensemble in Mame by Jerry Herman at Light Opera Works

Light Opera Works presents

Review by John Olson

Light Opera Works has announced they will be changing their name to Music Theater Works as of the first of next year. A logical choice considering their repertoire in recent years has been more musical comedy than operetta, but they might also have considered something like “Musical Theater Library,” or “Musical Theater Archives.” That is not meant to be disparaging – not entirely, anyway. Their current production of the 1966 Jerry Herman musical, Mame, Herman’s follow-up to his monstrously successful Hello, Dolly!, is as I’ve always found true of their work, a lovingly created staging in the manner of Golden Era Broadway productions. In addition to a cast of 33 and a pit orchestra of 26 musicians, we’re treated to a gorgeous art deco-inspired set by Adam Veness, which together with a series of beautifully painted backdrops takes us into a glamorous New York City of the 1920s and ‘30s. And Robert S. Kuhn’s costumes are stunning – especially considering the creative task of clothing the seven principal actors and 22 cameo roles and 23 ensemble members in outfits from those three decades suitable for characters who had a lot of money.

Zachary Scott Fewkes as Patrick in Mame by Jerry Herman, Light Opera WorksIt looks great. And musically, it sounds great. The score – arguably Herman’s most popular, and one that exemplifies the term “showtunes” at their finest – is given a strong reading both vocally and orchestrally under the baton of conductor Roger L. Bingaman. The musical was of course always a star vehicle, with the original Broadway production firmly establishing Angela Lansbury as a musical theatre star of the highest order in her casting as “Auntie” Mame Dennis. So the challenge for a non-Equity company like Light Opera Works is finding a Mame who can fill those shoes. To a large degree, they found one in Nancy Hays, a performer whose bio lists mostly concert appearances but made a splash last year as Judy Garland in Pride Films and PlaysThe Boy from Oz. Hays is a terrific singer and has no trouble selling numbers like “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window” and “My Best Girl.” Her Auntie Mame is charming and likable, but not particularly eccentric or larger than life.

Which leads to the larger disappointment in contrast to the show’s many merits. It takes a while to get going, and director Rudy Hogenmiller never quite gets to the sort of light and anarchic mood the piece needs. Following the brief opening scene and song in which the recently orphaned 10-year-old Patrick (the talented Zachary Scott Fewkes) is taken from Des Moines to New York with mousy nanny Agnes Gooch (Alicia Berneche), the curtain reveals a wild party at Mame’s Beekman Place apartment. The party never seems organically wild, though. It feels more like a predictably staged opening number with a cast trying too hard to be wacky. While the cast lightens up and settles into the mood better as the show goes on, they never quite capture the correct tone, and the humor in the script doesn’t entirely land. In fairness, the Light Opera Works casts don’t get a lot of time to settle into the show. 26-piece orchestras and 33-member cast cost money, and Light Opera Work’s model is to play fewer performances in a large house in order to make the economics work, so they open cold without benefit of previews and play just seven performances.

Nancy Hays as Mame with company in Mame, Light Opera WorksJustin Adair as Patrick Dennis in Mame by Jerry Herman, Light Opera Works Nancy Hays and Zachary Scott Fewkes as Mame and Patrick, Light Opera WorksNancy Hays as Mame Dennis and ensemble in Mame by Jerry Herman, Light Opera Works Nancy Hays and Mary Robin Roth as Mame Dennis and Vera Charles in Mame, Light Opera WorksZachary Scott Fewkes and Nancy Hays as Patrick and Mame, Light Opera Works Alicia Berneche and Zachary Scott Fewkes as Agnes Gooch and Patrick Dennis in MameNic Fantl, Nancy Hays, Alexander Wu, Alicia Berneche and Zachary Scott Fewkes in Mame

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s script – based on their non-musical play Auntie Mameis probably a tough one to make relevant today in any case. Their satire of the upper classes (based on Patrick Dennis’ autobiographical novel) pits the free-thinking idle rich against the stodgy, old-money rich. In an era when we’ve become sensitive to massive and increasing income inequality, taking sides with the idle rich – – spending  money on lavish parties, homes, home furnishings, clothing, overseas travel and art – even as the country was in the midst of the Great Depression – is hard to do.

So sadly, one has to consider that Mame, bright catchy score and all, may have become more of a museum piece suitable for concert revivals than a vibrant musical to be fully produced. There’s a place for museum pieces, and there’s no denying the pleasures of listening to an old-style overture while waiting for the velvet curtain to rise. One wishes Hogenmiller weren’t quite so respectful, though. Do we really need a nearly three-hour Mame? Couldn’t they have cut the filler star-solo and production number “That’s How Young I Feel”? There’s no escaping the fun of hearing “We Need a Little Christmas” and “Mame” performed by such strong musicians. And there are pleasures in seeing the original dances of Onna White re-created here by choreographer Clayton Cross. It’s a nostalgia trip, to be sure, in thinking back to 1966, when one could see the likes of Lansbury and a big production like this one for a top price of $12.00. Notably, the buying power of $12.00 in 1966 was equivalent to $89.00 today, just about the top price ticket to this Mame (but well below today’s top Broadway ticket prices of $150.00 or more). Nostalgia IS what it used to be, and it’s reason enough to catch this show.

Rating: ★★★

Mame continues through August 28th at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston (map).  Tickets are $34-$94, and are available by phone (847-920-5360) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 55 minutes, includes a 15-minute intermission)

Nancy Hays as Mame Dennis in Mame by Jerry Herman, Light Opera Works

Photos by Mona Luan




Nancy Hays (Mame Dennis), Mary Robin Roth (Vera Charles), Alicia Berneche (Agnes Gooch), Zachary Scott Fewkes (Young Patrick Dennis), Justin Adair (Older Patrick Dennis, Ensemble), Nic Fantl (Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside), Dan Gold (Ralph Devine, Stage Manager, Junior Babcock, Ensemble), Michael Swisher (Bishop, Leading Man, Uncle Jeff, Ensemble), Russell Alan Rowe (M. Lindsay Woolsey), Alexander Wu (Ito), Jake Ganzer (Doorman, Ensemble), Clayton Cross (Elevator Boy, Ensemble), Mac Myles (Messenger, Ensemble), Rick Rapp (Dwight Babcock), Amanda Giles (Art Model, Gloria Upson, Ensemble), Michelle McKenzie-Voight (Dance Teacher, Mrs. Upson), Jody Goldman (Madame Branislowski, Mother Burnside, Ensemble), Stephen Boyer (Gregor, Ensemble), Nic Fantl (Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside), Alexis Aker (Cousin Fan, Ensemble), Alexis Armstrong (Sally Cato, Ensemble), Kirk Swenk (Mr. Upson, Ensemble), Megan Gill (Pegeen Ryan, Ensemble), Casey Lyons (Peter Dennis); Anna Backer, Kayla Boye, Kelly Britt, Kat Geertson, Phil Kaiser, Josh Kimball, John Marshall Jr., Molly McMillan, Wade Tischhauser (ensemble)


Roger L. Bingaman (conductor), Nina Saito (concertmaster, violin), Jerry DiMuzio, Gail Crosson, David Tuttle, James P. Ramey, Rose Sperrazza (reeds), John Burson, Kevin G. Wood, Charles K. Finton (trumpet), John McAllister, James Mattern, Tom Stark (trombone), James Langenberg (tuba), Linda Madonia (piano), Jeffrey Kust (guitar, banjo), Debbie Katz Knowles (percussion), Nina Saito, John F. Ling, Elizabeth M. Brown, Vitaly Briskin (violin I), Diana J. Brodick, Corinne K. Brodick, Martin Hackl, Gretchen Sherrell (violin II), Dorothy A. Deen, Allegra Montanari (cello), Joseph Krzysiak (bass)

behind the scenes

Rudy Hogenmiller (director, artistic director), Clayton Cross (choreographer), Roger L. Bingaman (conductor), Adam Veness (scenic design, technical director, running crew chief), Robert S. Kuhn (costume design), Andrew H. Meyers (lighting design), Aaron Quick (sound design), Miguel Perez (hair and makeup design), Jaime Karas (props master), Daniel D. Drake (stage manager), Katie Beeks (production manager), Kevin Disch (asst. music director), Diana J. Brodick (orchestra contractor), Wade Tischhauser (dance captain), Olivia Ellery (asst. stage manager), Ashley Ann Woods (asst. scenic design), Simon Robinson (master electrician), Aaron Lorenz (lighting board programmer), Dylan Reyno (lighting board operator), Alon Stotter, Deborah Baxter (spotlight operators), Ian Garrett (sound board operator), Cory Vincent (sound assistant), Brennan Jones (child wrangler), Elizabeth Paredes (asst. hair & makeup design), K.C. Matthews (running crew), Means of Production (set costruction), Bridget McDonough (general manager),  Matt Conlon (house manager), Mona Luan (photographer)

Nancy Hays as Mame with company in Mame at Light Opera WorksMary Robin Roth as Vera Charles in Mame, Light Opera WorksNancy Hays as Mame by Jerry Herman, Light Opera WorksAlicia Berneche, Nancy Hays and Mary Robin Roth in Mame, Light Opera Works


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Cahn Auditorium, Jerry Herman, John Olson, Light Opera Works, Musical

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