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freeFall Theatre

Also see Bill's reviews of The Amish Project and The Cotton Club Cabaret

Matthew McGee and Michael Raabe
freeFall Theatre is in the middle of a very successful run of Mame starring Matthew McGee. At first I thought that this show was an odd choice for a theater that specializes in somewhat unusual fare and when they do choose a mainstream play, they often find a different approach. In a program note from director Eric Davis, she says, "One of the things we love to do at freeFall is take a fresh look at classic musicals. ... In looking at this piece more intimately we find at its heart a central relationship that is both powerful and complex." Mame's book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is not that strong and the relationship between Mame and Patrick is episodically drawn, so focusing intensely on this relationship doesn't work all that well for me. The strength of this musical is Jerry Herman's fine score and a superb role for a full-out Broadway star. The show requires big forces to fully put over the razzle-dazzle of such great numbers as "Open a New Window," "Thats How Young I Feel," and of course the title song, and a cast of 12 simply cannot muster that explosive energy, so some of the pizazz built into the show fizzles out. I will state emphatically that the audience at the performance I attended loved it in a way that I did not, and all performances, including several added ones, are sold out for the final two weeks of the run.

Mame requires a bravura performance in the starring role, so who better to turn to than the Bay Area's favorite, Matthew McGee, usually known for his comic turns, often in drag. Here he plays Mame Dennis fairly straight and does bring the required star power. He has the comic chops for the role but I did not emotionally connect with the character. Lourelene Snedeker as Vera Charles gets the boozy acidity right and shows chemistry with Matthew in the show's best number, "Bosom Buddies." Lulu Picart is mousy as Agnes Gooch but does not dominate her center stage moment, "Gooch's Song." Nick Lerew as grown up Patrick hovers over the proceedings from start to finish, an effect that he handles very well. William Garrabrant as his younger self shows great stage presence and he and Lerew look like they could be the same person at different ages. The problem with the small cast is that all of these performers are called upon to double as other characters. This is most problematic when Patrick Ryan Sullivan, who plays Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a thankless role if there ever was one, doubles up as Mrs. Upson late in the proceedings. The rest of the cast is fine, playing almost 25 additional named characters and forming the ensemble. The dancing is lively, choreography by Shain Stroff.

Michael Raabe is the musical director, sometimes interacting with the cast. He is assisted by Irving Goldberg on bass and Burt Rushing on drums. Again, this small band simply cannot fully provide the musical energy built into Herman's score.

David Covach provides quite a wardrobe for our heroine, and the costumes for the rest of the cast are quite good. Scenic design by Greg Bierce, which includes lavish projections which add depth to the production, is effective, considering the spacial limitations for a show of this size. Mike Wood provides the very effective lighting.

The problem I have with this production is that Mame is a middling musical with book problems and in order for it to score as it should it needs to be much bigger.

freeFall Theatre Company presentsMame through August 9, 2015, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit

Starring Matthew McGee* as Mame Dennis
featuring(in alphabetical order)
David Bevis as Junior Babcock, Emilee Dupre* as Gloria Upson, William Garrabrant as Young Patrick, Nick Lerew as Older Patrick, John Lombardi* as Dwight Babcock, Mark Vincent Mansilungan as Ito, Maya Naff as Pegeen Ryan, Lulu Picart* as Agnes Gooch, Lourelene Snedeker* as Vera Charles, Shain Stroff* as M. Lindsay Woolsey, & Patrick Ryan Sullivan* as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association

Director: Eric Davis
Music Director: Michael Raabe
Choreographer: Shain Stroff
Original Scenic Design: Greg Bierce
Original Costume Design: David M. Covach
Original Lighting Design: Mike Wood**
Assistant Lighting Design: Ryan Finzelber
Original Prop Design: Timothy Saunders
Wig Design: Susan Haldeman
Scenic Painting: Allison Davis
Production Stage Manager: Daniel LeMien*
Assistant Stage Manager: Timothy Saunders*
Sound Engineer: Steven Krack
Set Construction: Matt Davis
Technical Assistants: Trenten Szabo, Terry Farley, Allison Davis
**=Member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829 of the IATSE.

Photo: Mike Wood Photo

--William S. Oser

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