Jerry Herman’s musicals have become a staple of the weekly showtune nights at gay bars, where dozens of men can be heard belting out the signature songs of “La Cage aux Folles,” “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly” from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco. And while “I am what I am” and many other tunes have become anthems, ask the openly gay composer Herman about his favorite show and he will likely tell you, “Mack and Mabel,” the rarely produced show about silent filmmaker Mack Sennett - creator of the Keystone Cops - and actress Mabel Normand.
Herman’s beloved show has been resurrected by Broward Stage Door Theatre under the loving guidance and a few tweaks from director Michael Leeds, who performed in the first national tour. While “Mack and Mabel” doesn’t feature singing transvestites, urbane aunties or turn-of-the-century fag hags, the show features one of Herman’s most tuneful scores, gaggles of sequin-clad tap dancing chorus girls and lots of fabulous costumes, all the ingredients for a hit musical.
The dashing Shane Tanner as Sennett had more than a few ladies—and a few men, too—swooning as the serious filmmaker who missed out on the love of his life, sandwich delivery turned star Normand (Maya Gabrielle) because of his penchant for slapstick comedy. His soaring voice helps him carry the production, while Gabrielle, a New York import, perfectly captures the naivete of a girl swept into the glamorous world of Hollywood’s heyday.
Local favorite Ken Clement is perfectly cast as Fatty Arbuckle, the “butt” of the gags in nearly every Sennett film and he is supported by a strong comic ensemble including Stacie Johnson as skeptical pianist Ella, Kelly Cusimano as tap dancing chorus girl Lottie, and Bob Levitt as the “straight guy” producer Kleiman.
And while Leeds assembled a perfect cast, it is the detail and timing in his direction that makes this production shine as a dozen cast members flawlessly transition with perfect timing through comedic scenes from Sennett’s films.
Chrissi Ardito’s choreography captures the brilliance and spectacle of the classic Busby Berkeley productions, particularly in the final tap number featuring Cusimano and the ladies of the chorus, which she contrasts with quiet elegance in several intimate scenes between Mack and Mabel.
Ardean Landhuis’s austere soundstage set is cleverly and effectively transformed for each scene and effectively lit to take fullest advantage of Stage Door’s tight quarters.
Stage Door’s “Mack and Mabel” is a thoroughly entertaining production and worth the trip to Coral Springs for a satisfying evening of old-fashioned musical theater.
For more information, please visit Stagedoortheatre.com.