10 November 2009

MAME thoughts

I am basically obsessed with all things MAME, and have been ever since my mom directed AUNTIE MAME when I was in the 5th grade.  (I did not play Patrick because I felt "too much pressure", but I WAS Partrick Dennis for Halloween this year, bugle and all.)  I have read the book, seen both movies numerous times, and worked on a semi-staged concert version with Sandy Duncan, even though it meant spending another month living in a scary attic in Pittsfield, MA.  Everyone wants a revival of it, but it seems no one wants to produce a revival of it.  Perhaps it is because the writers are fiercely protective of it and basically want the original production again.  Jerry Herman has even gone to far as to say he would insist on the original Onna White choreography.  Of course, with a production looming and a skilled director at the helm, Herman may let go a little, but we'll never know.  I don't think the libretto needs much revision at all, though I would get rid of Lindsey Woolsey (he is completely useless) put the Upson's anti-semitism from the play back in the musical (with Mame opening a home for Jewish refuges and not unwed mothers and the end), and restore the best--and most important--line of the play:

Patrick: There are a lot of things a girl like Gloria doesn't need to know about.
Mame: Should she know that I think you've turned into one of the most beastly, bourgeois babbitty snobs on the Eastern Sea-Board, or will you be able to make that quite clear without and help from me?

In the original novel, Mame's liberal free spirit was as political as it was fabulous and decadent.  To me, the play AUNTIE MAME is actually quite similar to Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's other popular play, INHERIT THE WIND.  Both center on the protagonists fight to protect and encourage the right to think, and both reflect the core of the national debate that has led to those outrageous town hall meetings or the inability to pass marriage equality laws.  Nowadays, MAME is too often thought of as a musical about a woman who wears 30 years of fabulous fashion and drinks a lot, a family friendly ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.  I would love to see someone like David Cromer mine the play with this in mind.

As for Onna White's choreography, it is truly excellent.  I've often thought her work looked awkward in films like BYE BYE BIRDIE, THE MUSIC MAN and PETE'S DRAGON, but onstage it seems to make more sense.  Below are two clips from the 1983 revival (which essentially remounted the original production). Note how cleanly she stages "It's Today", making it simultaneously a full company production number, and a quite naturalistic party.  Also note her use of line and space in the elegant title number--and the way she uses the bodies of her chorus members.  Though recreating this choreograhy around a new production would probably not work, I don't know of  any choreographers today who have such a pure sense of dance and movement as metaphor combined with a musical comedy sensibility.  Could Bill T Jones work with jazz squares?

No comments:

Post a Comment