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re: MAME in Regional Theaters
Last Edit: BroadwayTonyJ 09:34 pm EDT 05/05/21
Posted by: BroadwayTonyJ 09:29 pm EDT 05/05/21
In reply to: re: MAME in Regional Theaters - Michael_Portantiere 10:23 am EDT 05/04/21

I just watched the '58 film and I'll stick with my assessment. Auntie Mame is really an oddly constructed screwball comedy. It's not exactly a romantic comedy because Mame at times is such a thoughtless, dismissive, cunning, and often unscrupulous woman. She would be unlikeable if Rosalind Russell was not so charismatic and charming in the way she pulls off her characterization of this rather flawed lady. She obviously was born to play Mame Dennis.

In many ways Norah Muldoon is the heart and soul of the story. She certainly has been Patrick's surrogate mother before his father's death and the one person Patrick can go to for comfort and assurance when Mame occasionally is dismissive toward him. After Mame gets fired from Midnight Madness, she is totally incompetent at several jobs during the 4 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's Norah who saves the day (together with Ito) by using their savings to pay Mame's household bills until Beau comes into the picture. Mame initially is a little distant toward Beau and hesitant toward accepting his invitation to take them all out to dinner. When he exits to tell the cab driver to wait, it's Norah who exclaims to Mame "Grab him quick before he gets away."

In the second half of the story, Norah has little dialogue but she's present in all the important scenes. After Beau's funeral, it's obvious Norah is now essentially running the Beekman Place household since Mame is busy putting the make on O'Bannion, writing her memoirs with Gooch, then doing her best to evade the Irish poet's too ardent advances. Although it's Mame who decides that Gooch should remake herself in order to accompany O'Bannion to the party Lindsey has arranged for the book deal, it is Norah who actually transforms Gooch into this stunningly attractive young woman by applying the appropriate makeup, dressing her to the nines, and elaborately coiffing her hair.

Norah is also present but mostly silent when the Upsons arrive and depart. Years later she is still seen when Patrick and Pegeen drop by to see Mame off before leaving for India.

The story loses too much heart in the musical by having Gooch absorb Norah's role. If Lawrence and Lee were dead set on eliminating characters to lower expenses, they could have the actress who plays Norah double as Mrs. Burnside since in the film both characters are close in age. They could also have the actress who plays Sally Cato double as Gooch (both of whom could be in their late 20's). That way they could have afforded to keep O'Bannion, who is a very colorful character in the film.

IMO the film very much still works. It's very funny, moves well from scene to scene with no dull moments, and surprisingly (although dated) is not really offensive except for the way Ito is portrayed. The film definitely does not laugh at Gooch's pregnancy. Mame, Norah, and Ito all give her support. Even Patrick and Pegeen treat her situation with respect. It is only the Upsons and Babcock who behave badly toward her.

If Lawrence and Lee had stuck more closely to Comden and Green's screenplay, Mame's libretto would be much stronger and might even still work today. I was easily able to spot all the cues for Jerry Herman's songs in the screenplay's dialogue. That's just the way I see it. I don't expect anyone else to necessarily agree with me.
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