It was lights, cameras, action at the Hayes theatre for this very slick production of MACK AND MABEL, book by Michael Stewart and catchy music by Jerry Herman, directed by Trevor Ashley.
This musical, set in Brooklyn in 1911, centres on the turbulent relationship between the two main characters – Mack Sennet, a controlling, director of silent films with tyrannical tendencies and his aspiring screen star, Mabel Normand.
The production features an effective set design by Lauren Peters, featuring moving mirrors and projections on screens, and wonderful lighting design by Gavin Swift and sound design by Neil Mclean.
We see that Mack’s memories shape the narrative and that they are very subjective.
An assured and appealing Scott Irwin plays Mack ‘I just wants to make the world laugh’ who meets Mabel, a deli shop worker, played with verve and vivaciousness by Angelique Cassimatis.
Mack sees acting potential in Mabel and casts her in one of his comedy movies which he churns out prolifically. Mabel soon has the ‘acting bug’ which the lyrics to the song Look What’s Happened To Mabel describes well, ‘she is ambitious and has to say goodbye to bagels and knishes”.
The acting troupe leave Brooklyn for studios in California and Lottie Ames, played by the charismatic Deonne Zanott, sings Big Time with the lyrics, “the cherry on top of the sundae… the shiny star on top of the tree.”
In the the song I Won’t Send Roses Mack warns Mabel about his nature, ‘I’m preoccupied with me…Forgetting birthdays is guaranteed.” Later Mabel sings, “Who wants chocolates, they’d make me fat. I can get by without a gushing valentine. I know I will be left out on a limb.”
Scriptwriter Frank, played by Adam Di Martino, warns Mabel that, “Mack is a despot who doesn’t respect her as an artist”. Alas, Mabel loves Mack and ignores his advice.
For Mabel her meteoric rise to stardom isn’t enough and she meets the charming, suave yet phony director – William Desmond Taylor, played by Shaun Rennie, who has a part for her in one of his upcoming serious films.
At one point Mabel, resplendent in fur coat and hat with silver handbag and shoes, (lovely costume design by Angela White who shows great attention to detail), sings Wherever He Ain’t.
Mack’s films are getting more involved and now feature bathing beauties – a scene of which is played out with stunning choreography by Cameron Mitchell.
Act Two reveals the five piece band under the musical direction of Bev Kennedy.
All of the actors wish for Mabel to return. Comedian Fattie Arbuckle, played by Stephen Valeri, sings when When Mabel Comes In the Room ‘artificial flowers might even bloom’.
The bumbling slapstick of the Keystone Cops, one of Mack’s creations, adds to his popularity and success.
Other song highlights include Mabel singing the heartfelt Time Heals Everything, ‘One fine morning the hurt will end’, and a tour de force rendition by Lottie of Tap Your Troubles Away, a treat for dance aficionados.
Mabel’s life hits a downward trajectory. What’s to become of her? It is as if Mack has written the script to his own life and is unable to alter the ending. In retrospect, he is trapped by his own torturous demeanour and having regrets.
The more than marvellous MACK AND MABEL, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point, is playing the Hayes Theatre until December 18.