Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Mack and Mabel

Also see John's reviews of Evil Dead: The Musical and He's Coming Up the Stairs!

The Stage Door Theatre presents Mack and Mabel featuring music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart. The plot involves the tumultuous romantic relationship between real-life silent movie director Mack Sennett and waitress-turned-screen-star Mabel Normand. The musical opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on October 6, 1974. It closed on November 30, 1974, after 6 previews and 66 performances. The show received eight Tony Awards nominations: for book, direction, set and costume design, choreography, lead actor, lead actress, and Best Musical.

Mack Sennett was born Mikall Sinnott in 1880 in Quebec, Canada. He was the child of Irish Catholic immigrant farmers, who moved to Connecticut when he was seventeen. After moving to New York City, Sennett went on to become an actor, set designer and director. In 1912 he founded Keystone Studios in Edendale, California. Sennett's slapstick comedies were noted for their wild car chases and custard pie fights. His films featured the physical comedic talents of the "Keystone Cops" and the glamour of a bevy of girls known as the "Sennett Bathing Beauties." In 1917 Sennett gave up the Keystone trademark and organized his own company, Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation. The studio did not survive the Great Depression, and was forced into bankruptcy in November 1933. Sennett went into semi-retirement at the age of 55, having produced more than 1,000 silent films and several dozen talkies over a 25 year career. Many important actors started their careers with Sennett, but his first comedienne was Mabel Normand, with whom he had a long and turbulent romantic relationship.

Born in Staten Island, New York in 1892, silent film comedienne Mabel Normand grew up in extreme poverty. She began film work at the age of 16, and met director Mack Sennett while working at D.W. Griffith's Biography Company. Her comedic ability in hundreds of Sennett films led to great success and fame. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company. Unfortunately she was linked with widely publicized scandals including the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor and the 1924 shooting of Courtland S. Dines, who was shot by Normand's chauffeur with her pistol. The scandals, combined with her addiction to alcohol and cocaine, undoubtedly led to the decline of her career. She died in California of tuberculosis in 1930.

Mack and Mabel begins in 1938, as famed director Mack Sennett returns to his old film studio in Brooklyn. Things have changed considerably since he was last there, and Mack reminisces about the glorious era of silent movies when he ran the show in the song "Movies Were Movies." In a flashback, it is that day in 1911 when Mack first meets a delicatessen delivery girl named Mabel Normand. He turns her into a star, and she falls in love with him. Though Mack loves her in his own way ("I Won't Send Roses"), it is his filmmaking that is his first love and undying passion ("I Wanna Make The World Laugh"). Though their careers and personal lives takes them on separate paths, Mabel never gets over Mack ("Time Heals Everything"). By the time Mack is willing to try to patch things up with Mabel, it is too late. But, ever the director, Mack imagines a happier ending to their story in his loving tribute to her, "I Promise You A Happy Ending."

This production has crisp choreography by Chrissi Ardito. She makes the most of the stage space in "Hundreds of Girls" and in the Keystone Cops chase scenes. "Tap Your Troubles Away" is beautifully danced by the ensemble, led by Kelly Cusimano as Lottie. Mara Gabrielle is sweet as Mabel, her only flaw perhaps that she does not "up her stakes" at the end of the show as Mabel's life unravels. Shane Tanner is undeniably commanding as Mack Sennett. His singing voice is polished, and his acting provides a Mack that is driven, masculine and unapologetic. Tanner's performance is a force to be reckoned with. There is, however, some charm missing in his Mack that makes it puzzling that Mabel would fall in love with him. Tanner needs to do a little less yelling and a little more wooing. Jeffrey Funaro is perfect as the slick and handsome William Desmond Taylor—able to convey pretentiousness with the mere utterance of the word "darling." While Kelly Cusimano dances Lottie well and looks the part, she seemed tense on the night attended, as if she was concentrating very hard on smiling. Ken Clement is icing on the cake (or in this case whipped cream on the pie) as Fatty Arbuckle. His size and comedic flavor fit the role as though it were written for him.

The staging of the silent films being shot in the course of the show provides countless quick costume and set changes, all smoothly executed. The theatre has cleverly placed a screen above the stage upon which authentic silent films are shown before the show, and the pre-show speech featuring producer Dee Bunn in period costume is projected in black and white. Having seen this musical before, I am aware that there are a couple of slightly different versions of the script. This production seems to use a combination that is sure to please. A great show, with wonderful songs, colorful characters, and a touching story, Mack and Mabel is magic.

Jerry Herman is one of America greatest and most beloved Broadway composers. His work includes the musicals Milk and Honey (1961), Hello, Dolly! (1964), Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Mack & Mabel (1974), The Grand Tour (1979), A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (1980) and La Cage aux Folles (1983). Herman was the first composer-lyricist in history to have three musicals run more than 1,500 performances on Broadway with Hello, Dolly! (2,844), Mame (1,508) and La Cage aux Folles (1,761). He has been nominated for the Tony Award five times, winning twice for Hello, Dolly!, and La Cage aux Folles. Among his many honors are a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, named after him by his alma mater, the University of Miami.

Mack and Mabel will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through September 26, 2010. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at

Mack Sennett: Shane R. Tanner
Mabel Normand: Mara Gabrielle
Ella: Stacie Johnson
William Desmond Taylor: Jeffrey Funaro
Fatty Arbuckle: Ken Clement
Lottie: Kelly Cusimano
Kleiman: Bob Levitt
Ensemble: Christopher Violett, Alisha Suitor, Joey Zangardi, Ron Tal, Kelly Skidmore, Maureen Kelley, Casey Shea, Lauren Kaye Cluett, Al Gable, Michael Joseph

Director: Michael Leeds*
Music Director: Kevin Coughlin
Choreographer: Chrissi Ardito
Scenic/Lighting Design: Ardean Landhuis
Sound Design: Wayne Sherman
Costume Design: Marilyn Wick & Costume World Theatrical
Wigs: Meredith Anzalone
Stage Manager: Nancy Clay

*Designates a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., an independent national labor union.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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