Musical 'I Remember Mama' is exceedingly sweet

June 23, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Most people remember "I Remember Mama" as a play (by John Van Druten), or as a movie (starring Irene Dunne), or as a radio series, or as one of the first TV sitcoms, or as the book on which all of these were based ("Mama's Bank Account," by Kathryn Forbes). But hardly anyone remembers that for a few months in 1979, "I Remember Mama" was a Broadway musical. It was, in fact, composer Richard Rodgers' last musical.

This alone makes the little-known show worth a look and a listen, and Cockpit in Court, a summer theater with a reputation for the tried-and-true, deserves high marks for taking a risk on an unfamiliar commodity.

As it turns out, however, it's not a risk of huge proportions.

While the score may not be recognizable, it includes a couple of pleasantly hummable melodies, particularly Mama's upbeat "Ev'ry Day (Comes Something Beautiful)" and the love song, "You Could Not Please Me More."

And the story could hardly be more crowd-pleasingly -- or cloyingly -- sentimental.

The show is narrated by Katrin, the eldest of five children of the Hansens, a Norwegian family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

Although the plot, adapted by Thomas Meehan, chronicles such family adventures as little Dagmar's bout of appendicitis and Aunt Trina's engagement to an undertaker, the main thrust of the story concerns Papa's return to Norway after losing his job as a ship's carpenter.

Will the family be reunited?

Do you have to ask?

This is, after all, a Richard Rodgers musical -- and he's teamed for most of the songs with lyricist Martin Charnin, the man behind "Annie."

The only edge in "I Remember Mama" comes when your teeth start aching from the sweetness.

Ava Lenet makes a nice old-fashioned Mama, but not so old-fashioned that she doesn't have a strong independent streak. Both she and Arne Lindquist -- who plays her loving, but occasionally stubborn husband -- do ample justice to Rodgers' lilting tunes. Regrettably, as Katrin, Valerie Long comes across as petulant to the point of being unpleasant, a quality that also affects her singing.

In supporting roles, J. R. Lyston delivers an enjoyably comic turn PTC as crude Uncle Chris and Pebble Kranz is a humorously haughty cross between Margaret Dumont and Angela Lansbury as Dame Sybil Fitzgibbons, a visiting author specializing in books without a trace of sex or violence.

And speaking of the lack of sex and violence, it's difficult to imagine a more wholesome show than this one, in which "drat" is a swear word and Uncle Chris, shunned by his relatives for living in sin, turns out to have been married after all.

Wholesome, sentimental and hummable -- sounds like the perfect formula for this little summer theater.

It's unfortunate that Cockpit's crackly amplification obscures so many lyrics as well as melodies. And the production's slow pace needs more of a boost than it gets from F. Scott Black's direction and Liese Frutchey's unimaginative choreography.

Still, this could be your only chance to see "I Remember Mama." Musical theater buffs will revel in the novelty; sentimentality buffs will revel in the sugar.


What: 'I Remember Mama'

Where: Cockpit in Court, Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

When: Tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets: $12.50.

Call: (410) 780-6369.

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