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re: MAME in Regional Theaters
Posted by: BroadwayTonyJ 06:15 am EDT 05/06/21
In reply to: re: MAME in Regional Theaters - Michael_Portantiere 11:52 pm EDT 05/05/21

I've seen the '58 film dozens of times and I still find it hilarious except for the Ito characterization. (Full disclosure: my extended family is part Korean-American.) However, I hadn't seen it in about 5 years. I watched it yesterday to refresh my memory before joining this debate. I didn't want to make careless misstatements.

My knowledge of Mame the musical is not as extensive as yours and probably others, which may be why we disagree. I loved the '66 OBC album both as an LP and CD. It was one of my favorites as a teenager, but I never saw a stage production until decades later. I finally saw the film sometime in the 80's (probably on Cinemax). I find it the absolutely worst post-1950 high profile film version of a Broadway musical ever made. I originally taped it on VHS and tried watching it from time, but (to this day) I have never viewed the film from beginning to end in one sitting. However, by now I have probably seen every part of it. I used to have it on my DVR, but eventually erased it.

I finally saw a stage production of Mame in '94 with the great Paula Scrofano in the title role and Will Chase as the older Patrick. It was the better of the two stagings that I have seen. The actress playing Gooch was probably in her 30's, which works better than when that character is cast with a much older actress. I definitely enjoyed it although I was a little shocked that the libretto was not as strong as the '58 screenplay. I saw another production in '01 with Hollis Resnik as Mame and Alene Robertson as a terrific Vera. This time Paula Scrofano (at age 51) was Gooch. The production re-instated "St. Bridget" to give her more to sing. She definitely got all the laughs the character is supposed to get, but seeing a pregnant woman at her age was pretty jarring (although not as grotesque as seeing the 48-year old Jane Connell in the '74 film).

For me the great character actress Connie Gilchrist provides the much needed heart in the '58 film to balance the at times very thoughtless, selfish, madcap character of Mame Dennis. I also love Peggy Cass' portrayal of Gooch, who I'm pretty sure in the film must be in her 20's. O'Bannion is likely a fortune hunting jerk but I also find him to be a colorful rake. Both Mame and Agnes are sexually attracted to him, which adds a lot of humor to the story.

Of course, in the film Agnes is not really an unwed mother-to-be, she just thinks she is. Auntie Mame is a screwball comedy so every scene is played for laughs, but Agnes' pregnancy is not laughed at, only the bigoted Upsons and Babcock look at her situation with prejudice. The scene where she can't sit upright on a backless couch would be funny regardless of her marital situation -- the humor in the scene is not cruel or tasteless IMO. When we find out at the end that Agnes is indeed married, it's a happy occurrence (sort of) -- it has always reminded me a little of the bittersweet resolution in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy convinces (or bribes) George Wickham to wed Lydia Bennet. I hate Wickham but he adds a lot of color to the story.
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