Mame presents the story of an upper-crust woman who gains custody of her nephew after the death of her brother. The family clearly had money – the boy and his nanny arrive in the New York party pad of Auntie Mame and first meet her as she’s hosting a soiree combining prohibition booze, top entertainers and other company from atop Manhattan’s social ladder. The tension of the show comes as the button-down executor of the boy’s estate wishes the child to be brought up in conservative ways, contrasted with Auntie Mame’s flamboyantly Montessori approach to childrearing. Much mayhem ensues.
The music from the 1960s era show has long since entered the popular library – tunes like “Bosom Buddies,” “Open a New Window,” and “We Need a Little Christmas” make the production fun to watch, and highlight the vocal talent of the ensemble Evanston Light Opera Works assembled for their current production, which Michael and I saw this past Saturday night. Nancy Hays anchors the cast in the title role, and a ten-year-old Zachary Fewkes also dazzles. The aging star of the stage Vera is another highlight, played by Mary Roth.
The show suffers a bit from age – it’s set in the roaring 20s and then the depression; the original production took on social themes that were poignant when the book then film then musical were written, but that tend to be handled differently these days. An Asian butler, a gay hairdresser, an unwed mother, and a restricted community added up to complex themes when Rosalind Russell played Mame in the movie version and Angela Lansbury played her on Broadway in the 1960s. But in 2016 the themes, while still relevant, tend to be approached quite differently. Michael and I noted similar issues with Light Opera Works’s production of South Pacific a while back. Clearly, however, aging themes are no reason to toss aside shows that occupy a place in music theatre history.
The anachronistic nature of the treatment of complex subject matter makes for interesting conversation. Add it to the treat of full orchestra accompaniment and some great dance and singing talent, and the production makes for a worthwhile Saturday night in Evanston.
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