■ BY ERICA RESS MARTIN
After a season like no other, with sold-out shows like last month’s big musical, “My Fair Lady,” Royal Palm Players ends the season in an unusual way. It’s “Mame – the Concert.”
This Tony Award-winning musical is staged like a concert with singers playing all the parts in the show. They have their scripts on music stands and play their characters as if they were instruments in a symphony. And it works, splendidly.
Lynda Jamison stars as Mame. Anyone who knows Lynda or who has heard her sing before quickly realizes Mame Dennis is the part she was meant to play. Her beguiling performance as she belts out Jerry Herman’s fanciful lyrics is certain to enchant the Boca Grande audience. When Lynda sings ‘If He Walked Into My Life Today,’ cast members have been known to break into spontaneous applause.
Wait till you see the interaction between Mame and her dearest friend, Vera, played by Alice Court. As the over-the-top, always slightly drunk, aging star, Alice’s deadpan delivery and powerful singing voice make this a true musical comedy. ‘Bosom Buddies’ is a highlight as Alice and Lynda vie for who is ‘the bitchier bitch.’
Young and not-so young Patrick, Mame’s nephew, are played by Ross Witschonke. Yes, it is hysterical to see him in short pants as a little boy, but his voice, oh, his voice. Ross literally grows up in this show. He and his Nanny, Agnes Gooch, played by Elaine Skypala, arrive in New York City terrified of living life to the fullest. Mame changes both of their outlooks on life, as well as their lives. There is a poignant moment when Mame and Patrick sing the marvelous duet ‘My Best Girl.’
Elaine, as Gooch, has one of the funniest solos when she is tutored on how to live, live, live by Mame and Vera. Elaine is always funny on stage, but she shines as the very pregnant girl who may have lived a bit too much. Her rendition of ‘Gooch’s Song,’ is particularly delightful.
James Martin is back too. He’s Mame’s Southern gentleman husband, who falls in love with her even though she almost saws off his fingertip while working as a manicurist during the Depression. James and Lynda are playful, flirty and clearly have great chemistry as he leads the huge chorus into a rousing rendition of ‘Mame,’ the title song.
This concert version features Jim Sullivan as the narrator who sets each scene for the audience. His compelling voice sets just the right tone as he opens Act Two with a reprise of ‘My Best Girl.’
Another surprise is the forceful work of Nathan Forrester as the hated banker, Babcock. The Mame vs. Babcock war is fought to the bitter end. Of course our heroine prevails, with a humorous twist.
Jeff Lehrian stars twice in this unusual production. First he plays Lindsay, Mame’s close friend from the world of publishing. Then he plays Uncle Jeff, down on Beau’s plantation in Georgia. As expected, Jeff’s singing is fabulous. What is unexpected is Jeff’s ability to play two different characters while switching back and forth between accents.
Boots Tolsdorf is hysterical as Ohno, Mame’s housekeeper who says ‘OH, NO!’ every time she speaks. Her perky characterization reminds us that this actor is a master of improvisational theater, too.
Carol B. Forrester stars as Sally Cato, the Georgia peach Beau doesn’t marry. Her syrupy Southern belle is wonderful as she tries to best Mame in the fight for Beau’s heart. Watch for Jeff Lehrian, Len Saari and Karen Snyder’s exuberant comedic performances during the foxhunt.
Joan Ardrey is sidesplitting as the faux French beauty salon owner who keeps slipping into a New York accent. Her able assistant, Yanni Saari, proves she can act as well as sing. Together they are a riot.
Another priceless scene is when Patrick brings Mame to meet his girlfriend and her parents. Stan Ikenberry, Priscilla Masselink and Nancy Parker play the Upson family, who live in a restricted, exclusive part of Connecticut and don’t want people like Mame and her kind moving in. You’ll laugh out loud at their collective pomposity.
Mark Masselink, in his first musical role ever, plays the owner of a very progressive school in Greenwich Village with joyous enthusiasm. At his school, The Laboratory of Life, students don’t read, because it stops them from experiencing life.
Pat Witschonke stars as Pegeen, Patrick’s wife at the end of the play. In real life she stars as Ross’ wife, so the casting works perfectly. More importantly, Pat is in her first role as an actress. and we hope to see her on stage again.
And last but not least, the role of Patrick’s son is played by Briggs Jamison, Lynda’s grandson. He is the only cast member who knew his lines before rehearsals began. His timing and his performance steal your heart.
As the company builds to the finale, Boca Grande’s favorite Tappers suddenly appear. This talented group includes Carol B. Forrester, Robbin Gilligan, Deanna Dean and Mary Hancur. Chris Lee’s incredible choreography gives the show the big finish it deserves.
RPP’s concert version was conceived, produced and directed by Erica Ress Martin. Bill Whitney co-produced and kept the cast singing to the beat every day.
Executive Producer Lynda Jamison provided her own musical director, Don Rebic. For the cast, the opportunity to work with a well-known musical director like Mr. Rebic was the chance of a lifetime. He taught them how to perfect an entire score in less than two weeks.
Alex Newberry designed the lighting. Mike Hilton designed the sound. Sharon Sullivan stage manages and helps Lynda Jamison with all her gorgeous costume changes. Kathy Kelleher and the RPP Board provided the support necessary to try something completely different. The result is an evening of fun worthy of Mame herself.
As Mame says, ‘Life is a party …’ For all the RPP volunteers and audiences, the party just seems to get better and better each year.