Colorful `Mame' takes stage at Toby's

Music, charm, talented cast make longtime favorite an enjoyable show



In 1955, novelist Patrick Dennis created a character that was a mixture of his vivacious, stylish mother and his eccentric, bohemian Aunt Marion.

The composite personality enchanted the public, inspiring a play and a movie, both like the book titled Auntie Mame, a musical called Mame that chalked up 1,508 performances on Broadway and toured for years, and a movie musical.

Now running at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Mame opens at the height of the 1920s. Patrick, an orphaned 10-year-old boy, seeks his aunt's fashionable apartment in Manhattan. He arrives in the middle of a cocktail party. This, he finds, is typical. To Mame, life is always a party.

A warm relationship develops between the boy and his aunt.

The uninhibited Mame wants him to be open to all manner of people and experiences, but Patrick's stuffy trustee, Mr. Babcock, ships him off to a boarding school in New England that will confine him to an elite social circle.

Mame loses her fortune in the crash of 1929, and after trying her luck on the stage and wrecking the show, she wangles a job as a manicurist. Her first customer is a rich Southern gentleman named Burnside. Although she manages to gash most of his fingers, the big-hearted Burnside finds Mame charming and takes her to visit his family in Georgia.

The womenfolk disapprove of Mame, but her triumphant behavior during a fox hunt (she keeps her seat on a rogue horse and brings the fox back alive and well) wins the admiration of the men and a proposal from Burnside.

In Act II, Mame, left a rich widow after Burnside is killed while mountain-climbing, has resumed her bohemian life in Manhattan.

By now, Patrick has grown up and is engaged. He hesitates to introduce his fiancee, Gloria, a beautiful, narrow-minded girl, to Mame and her raffish circle. As Mame had feared, Patrick is becoming a snob.

Gloria's amiable but bigoted parents, the Upsons, want to make sure the young couple will live in a "restricted" community. (That term may not mean much to younger generations, but older people will remember it.)

This doesn't go down well with Mame. The conflict between Patrick and Mame brings the show to a climax, but the audience knows enough about Mame to realize she will work things out successfully.

Cathy Mundy brings a powerful voice and a flamboyant air to the role of Mame. Debra Barber-Eaton gives Mame's friend, Vera, the grand manner of a stage star but manages to suggest emotional warmth beneath it.

Samn Huffer is on target as the well-meaning but stiff-necked Mr. Babcock. David Bosley Reynolds works hard to create Burnside's expansive personality.

As Mr. and Mrs. Upson, Charles Abel and Tammy Roberts are charming and poisonous. Abel does a nice New England dialect, and Maria Engler gives his daughter, Gloria, an amusing finishing-school drawl.

Raymond Brodsky (alternating with Devin Zahor) makes an appealing young Patrick, and Kurt Boehm is a charming adult Patrick.

Playing other roles (sometimes two or three) are David James, Russell Sunday, Felicia Curry, Ron Curameng, Jonathan Jackson, Tess Rohan, Heather Marie Beck, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Alan Wiggins, Janine Gulisano, Jeffrey Shankle and Jamie Eacker.

The title song, "Mame," is the most memorable number in Jerry Herman's score, but Mame and Vera have a funny duet, "Bosom Buddies," that illustrates their love-hate relationship.

Another effective number goes to Kristin Jepperson, who plays Patrick's nanny, Agnes Gooch. Following Mame's advice to live life to the fullest, Agnes returns home pregnant. "What do I do now?" she wails. The lyrics are clever, but in today's climate the situation isn't as funny as it used to be.

With direction by Carole Graham Lehan and choreography by Roger Bennett Riggle, the show plays out enjoyably. Costumes designed by Lawrence B. Munsey -- what seem to be hundreds of them, faithfully reflecting the changes of style between 1928 and 1946 -- fill the stage with color.

Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents "Mame" through Feb. 19. Evenings: Doors open 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Matinees: Doors open 10:30 a.m. Sundays and Wednesdays. Reservations are required.

Information or reservations: 410-730-8311 or 1-800-888-6297.

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