Michele Lee and Company
Sure to be listed in many a show queen's dream cast for Mame is Michele Lee. The veteran stage actress (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Seesaw) and television star ("Knot's Landing") is still beautiful, amazingly youthful, and her stage presence goes a long way to win over the audience in CLO's production. But her vocal limitations and a disconnect with some of the other characters keep this from being the success we show queens might hope for. A winning supporting cast and pleasing production elements, however, save the evening.

With a score by Jerry Herman and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, Mame features classic songs ("Open a New Window," "We Need a Little Christmas," "If He Walked into My Life"), and more than a few classic lines ("Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death"). The musical is based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play Auntie Mame by Lawrence and Lee, and it features the unconventional Mame Dennis (Lee) who takes 10-year-old orphaned nephew Patrick (Danny Cinski) under her fabulous wing, introducing him to the arts, the New York City bohemian culture of the 1920s, and to a robust attitude toward life. Accompanying Patrick is the meek and virginal Agnes Gooch (Donna Lynne Champlin), who continues as his nanny and as Mame's secretary. Mame's best friend, the wise-cracking and never sober Vera Charles (Ruth Williamson) comes and goes in the household, offering deep-voiced advice from her unique perspective.

Ms. Lee's voice was of varying quality on opening night, somewhat harsh during a lot of her singing (and heavy on the vibrato), but in the second act, she seemed to take opportunities to let a softer tone come through, which worked much better. The second act showstopper "If He Walked Into My Life" is a clear highpoint among her musical moments in the show. She smiles and moves with energy, and there's gusto in her performance. But there is no connection between Mame and Patrick, and little with the other characters. Sixth-grader Cinski is superb as young Patrick. His beautiful singing voice is strong and clear, and he acts the role like a pro. Dana Steer is equally talented as the all grown up Patrick, thus making a perfect transition for the character.

Ms. Williamson is a hoot as Vera Charles, and she nibbles without devouring the scenery, using pauses to great advantage, as well as her other practiced comedy techniques to present dripping sarcasm on some of the show's best lines. Her duet with Lee on "Bosom Buddies" is great fun. Ms. Champlin traverses the role of Gooch extremely well, going from drawn-in to all-out with great panache. Her spotlight "Gooch's Song" is a tremendous success and an audience favorite. As Beauregard Burnside, John Hickok exudes just the right amount of Southern charm. Mary Stout plays several roles, but it is her portrayal of Mother Burnside that is a highlight in the show; her delivery of Mother Burnside's opening line lands perfectly.

Other supporting roles are well done, featuring Orville Mendoza as Ito, Tim Brady as Dwight Babcock, Paul Palmer as Mr. Upson, and Kaitlyn Davidson as Gloria Upson.

Richard Sabellico directs a bit of a bumpy ride, with a few stalls along the way (even forgiving opening night glitches), making for a longer stay than expected. Choreography by Richard Stafford is appropriate and lively, though a bit repetitive (not unusual, given the 5-day run of the show). Walt Spangler provides a minimal but more than sufficient urban set, mostly updates through time of Mame's apartment, which come and go smoothly. Costumes are uncredited, but are excellent, particularly the opening scene outfit for Ms. Lee.

Mame ran July 8-13 for Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center. Smokey Joe's Cafe runs July 15-20 and Annie Get Your Gun July 22 - August 3. For performance and ticket information, call 412-456-6666 or visit

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-- Ann Miner

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