Back in the 1960s Jerry Herman could do nothing wrong. His mega-hits Hello, Dolly! and Mame made him the king of Broadway. The 1970s were not as kind. He had a string of less-than-successful musicals (Dear World, The Grand Tour), but the heartbreaker was Mack & Mabel. After a brief run in 1974, the musical folded and lost $800,000.
And it was those 66 performances which catapulted Mack & Mabel into cult status ever since. Why? Well, for one thing, it has a gorgeous score containing some of Herman's best work. The musical had one of the best creative teams ever assembled for the Broadway stage but Mack & Mabel had a fatal flaw. They killed Mabel off in act two, and everyone knows that no one ever dies in a Jerry Herman musical. Even Jerry knew that then but that's the way Michael Stewart's book was written.
Still, at the Tony's that year, Mack & Mabel received a few Tony nominations. Noticably absent was a nod for the score which many in the biz felt was a genuine slap at Herman. Since then Mack & Mabel has been Jerry's baby and he seems to be determined to "fix" the show's problems. And guess what? He has, and it works beautifully.
There have been various revivals and changes to the book, but it seems like the ending is where the major problem was. According to Ken Mandelbaum in "Not Since Carrie" they even once tried a wedding scene with Keystone Cops, but that didn't seem to work either. The new book, revised about 40% by Michael Stewart's sister, Francine Pascal, seems to do the trick. It now ends happily, leaving the audience with a ray of hope for the couple's future, the way a Jerry Herman musical oughta end. It's also important to know that the new ending is probably more historically accurate than all previous versions.
When Reprise announced that they were going to do a revival of this musical, theatre fans from all over the U.S. booked flights to Los Angeles. Since Jerry Herman lives in L.A. he was very much involved with the production and it shows. No six piece band here, as is the rigor with Reprise, but a full 17 piece orchestra. In the audience was Talkin' Broadway's critic, so we'll let her do the review which turns out to be an opposing point of view than mine.
There are some changes to the score, most notably, a riotous number called "Hit 'Em On The Head" has been added in which Mack and his two accountants do this vaudeville type number. What has been dropped is "My Heart Leaps Up" and there are one or two other minor changes.
With this very talented cast (including Douglas Sills as Mack and Jane Krakowski as Mabel), this entire production is ready for a transfer to Broadway. With just a little scenic design added, this show is about as ready as it's ever going to get.
And the timing is right for Broadway. We could use a Jerry Herman musical right about now. Wouldn't it be great to leave the theatre whistling a showtune? I know I'm getting tired of whistling scenery!
(Photo credit: Laurie Steiner)
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