Monday, September 13, 2010

Stage Door Theatre: Mack & Mabel (5 1/2 reviews)

The Stage Door Theatre previewed its production of Mack & Mabel for a week starting on August 20, with the Grand Opening on August 27, 2010.
The musical story of the tumultuous relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett, and his biggest star, Mabel Normand (a waitress from Flatbush Ave). With a blockbuster score by Jerry Herman, “Mack and Mabel” was nominated for 8 Tony Awards, including best Musical.
Michael Leeds directed a cast that included Shane Tanner, Mara Gabrielle, Kelly Cusimano, and Ken Clement, with choreography by Chrissi Ardito.

Roger Martin, who was the first to review the show, discovered he reviewed a preview.  So he went back and re-reviewed for Miami Artzine:
...reviewers seldom attend previews. It's not fair to the theatre. Or the critic.
Did the extra two weeks make a difference? Sure they did; just what you'd expect. A tighter, brighter show with actors having fun and audience members not saying things like: “It was drearier than I thought it would be.” But the sound mixing is still off with too often the singers being drowned by the accompaniment.
The standouts now are still the terrific Shane Tanner, Mara Gabriellle. who's found the humor in her role and Ken Clement as Fatty Arbuckle. The good news here is that Cusimano is now looking at the people to whom she speaks but the bad news is that you still can't hear the the first, second or third words in her big number.
So was it worth going back to Mack and Mabel? Very much so. The wonderful Jerry Herman music and the strong performances from the principals make this a constantly entertaining piece.
John LaRiviere reviewed for Talkin'
This production has crisp choreography by Chrissi Ardito. She makes the most of the stage space in "Hundreds of Girls" and in the Keystone Cops chase scenes. "Tap Your Troubles Away" is beautifully danced by the ensemble, led by Kelly Cusimano as Lottie.
Mara Gabrielle is sweet as Mabel...
Shane Tanner is undeniably commanding as Mack Sennett. His singing voice is polished, and his acting provides a Mack that is driven, masculine and unapologetic. Tanner's performance is a force to be reckoned with...
Jeffrey Funaro is perfect as the slick and handsome William Desmond Taylor... While Kelly Cusimano dances Lottie well and looks the part, she seemed tense on the night attended, as if she was concentrating very hard on smiling. Ken Clement is icing on the cake (or in this case whipped cream on the pie) as Fatty Arbuckle. His size and comedic flavor fit the role as though it were written for him.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper;
After first-rate productions of‭ ‬A Little Night Music and‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone,‭ ‬and now a very credible mounting of the problematic‭ ‬Mack and Mabel,‭ ‬we are going to have to stop being so surprised when the Broward Stage Door Theatre delivers satisfying entertainment.
Shane R.‭ ‬Tanner...‭ ‬carries the evening as crusty,‭ ‬staunchly unsentimental Mack Sennett... ‬He sings with authority,‭ ‬delivers his dialogue persuasively enough and‭ ‬--‭ ‬to his credit‭ ‬--‭ ‬never bothers to try to soften Sennett’s character.
Less successful in an even less-dimensional assignment is Mara Gabrielle‭ (‬Mabel‭)‬,‭ ‬but she too knows her way around a song...
Fatty Arbuckle‭ ... is played here by the always welcome Ken Clement,‭ ‬who feels underemployed...
Director Michael Leeds builds scenes from the script outline,‭ ‬managing a more cohesive narrative than exists on the page.‭ ‬And whenever the story starts evaporating,‭ ‬he relies on choreographer Chrissi Ardito to cover up the plot holes with dance flash.‭ ‬
Fashion Editor Rod Hagwood shortchanges us for the largely worthless Sun-Sentinel:
As Mack, Shane R. Tanner is a big booming delight and Mara Gabrielle's Mabel has everything — ringing voice, energetic dancing — but not that sprightly spirit an ingenue needs.

And the lack of chemistry between the two leads is a problem (in that vacuum Ken Clement as Fatty Arbuckle almost waddles away with the show), even though you'll hardly have time to notice...
So, if we'll "hardly have time to notice," why is it a problem?
Director Michael Leeds has produced a musical paced at fast-forward speed with slick and sly send-ups of just-under-the-radar Herman songs
Which is slick-looking writing that avoids actually communicating anything meaningful about the show.  Another worthless review from the newspaper that's fit only to wrap fish.

J.W. Arnold reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
Herman’s beloved show has been resurrected by Broward Stage Door Theatre under the loving guidance and a few tweaks from director Michael Leeds, who performed in the first national tour.  ...while Leeds assembled a perfect cast, it is the detail and timing in his direction that makes this production shine...
The dashing Shane Tanner as Sennett had more than a few ladies—and a few men, too—swooning... His soaring voice helps him carry the production...
...Maya Gabrielle... a New York import, perfectly captures the naivete of a girl swept into the glamorous world of Hollywood’s heyday.
Local favorite Ken Clement is perfectly cast as Fatty Arbuckle, the “butt” of the gags in nearly every Sennett film and he is supported by a strong comic ensemble including Stacie Johnson as skeptical pianist Ella, Kelly Cusimano as tap dancing chorus girl Lottie, and Bob Levitt as the “straight guy” producer Kleiman.
Chrissi Ardito’s choreography captures the brilliance and spectacle of the classic Busby Berkeley productions...
Mary Damiano reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:

Shane R. Tanner, often relegated to supporting roles, shows he’s leading man material as Mack Sennett...His strong, deep voice brings poignancy to I Won’t Send Roses, and exhilaration to the opening, When Movies Were Movies.
As Mabel, Mara Gabrielle exudes the perfect combination of pluck and radiance.  Gabrielle is the kind of performer who draws your attention whenever she’s onstage. She and Tanner have real chemistry...
Ken Clement is funny and endearing as silent movie comic Fatty Arbuckle, especially in his Act Two opener, When Mabel Comes in the Room. As Sennett actress Lottie, Kelly Cusimano is a straight-talking, tap-dancing tornado.
Director Michael Leeds deftly switches gears between the comedy, drama and slapstick of Mack and Mabel,  weaving all three into a seamless tapestry of entertainment. Kudos to music director Kevin Coughlin and sound designer Wayne Sherman, for making Stage Door’s pre-recorded tracks sound as if an orchestra were in the house.

Mack and Mabel is one of Stage Door’s better musical productions in recent years, a delight from start to finish.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami
The problem with this show is not only the darkly clich├ęd book by Michael Stewart. It's that the Broward Stage Door production simply doesn't sparkle. It's a messy show with too much business and poor sound mixing.... We get to see the staging of the two-reel comedies, the Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Kops but no one's having any fun.
Chrissi Ardito's imaginative choreography works well and the ensemble dancing is a strong plus.
...the only standout is Shane R. Tanner as Mack. He acts, sings and moves well, almost carrying the show alone. Mara Gabrielle as Mabel lacks any air of innocence as a young woman. Hers is a one-note performance, hard edged and unsympathetic. And second lead Kelly Cusimano... not only breaks the fourth wall with every speech but in her big number “Tap Your Troubles Away” swallows the first words of every line she sings. We are left wondering if she doesn't know the words or simply can't tap and sing at the same time. Ken Clement's many talents are under-utilized in the role of Fatty Arbuckle.
Mack & Mabel plays through September 26 at the Stage Door Theatre.


  1. A friend and I saw this production on Saturday, August 28 and we LOVED it. I can hardly believe that the person writing the negative review I just read was at the same theatre. Yes, Mr. Tanner's voice cracked a few times...over use? And I agree that Kelly struggled with the singing and dancing, BUT my friend and I both felt like we had just seen a Broadway quality production. In the car going home we couldn't stop singing the praises and after a brief silence we both came out with "WOW"....that was our real reaction...."WOW"....see it for yourself!

  2. This show is great! Saw it on Sunday night with three friends and we all agreed it was one of the best productions any of us had seen in years. Funny, poignant, old-fashioned, and heartbreaking. Tanner was incredible as Mack and commanded every scene he was in (nearly every scene in the show, really). Mara Gabrielle was at once adorable and tragic, and showed off a voice that rivals any well known Broadway belter. Stage Door has been giving other theaters a run for their money for the past few years. This makes two great shows in a row, after Drowsy Chaperone, that I've seen. I applaud the theater for it's success. Don't miss!

  3. Was not at all impressed by this production, nor Drowsy. The sloppiness of both shows only proves that Broward Stage Door truly is "hit-or-miss," as I usually love Michael Leeds' shows.

  4. Jim; I found DROWSY to be astonishingly tight; I saw it the final weekend, perhaps it got stronger through the run. But everyone I've spoken with were impressed with it. Yours is the first negative response on that show I've heard.

    I haven't seen M&M yet.

  5. Well, I saw it July 17th, I think it had been open for a bit - not sure how long a show needs to get "tight," but I've always been in the school of thought that it needs to be ready for opening (you know - when it had a paying audience? It shouldn't be that we all need to wait till the end of the run to see what the show should be).

    My main problem with the BSDT production of "Drowsy" was that it seemed that not all the actors were in the same show. Some had their emotions hightened enough for the style that the show is (I thought Adolpho was great, as were the Chaperone and Janet) but most missed the boat on the STYLE! When that happens in a show that's built around each part being equally important to the show, it starts to look way unbalanced, and you begin to wonder if the man in chair stutters in real life, or if it's built into the script and he should be making a bigger deal out of it. It's the little things like that that bothered me, but hey, we're all entitled to an opinion.

    As far as "Mack and Mabel," I'll say this: yes, it's better than the past few shows I've seen at Stage Door, and of course I'll be coming back. What bothers me is when we're supposed to accept a show as being "great" cause it's an improvement on the "crap" before it.

  6. I saw the show Friday and it was a wonderful evening of theatre. Roger Martin obviously did not see the same show that I saw.

  7. Valid points all around, Jim. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Jim, I think you need some anti-depressants. The shows were amazing. Maybe you were the one that "missed the boat"? Hmm? I think Drowsy was the best cast show that Stage Door has done in years. As for Mack and Mable-Have you seen the original script for that show, it was horrible. Michael Leeds really worked hard making M&M a great show.

  9. Well, that was rude an uncalled for (perhaps an upset cast member of "Drowsy" thinks I need to medicate?). Like I've said, we're all entitled to our opinion - and also, there were a few good performances in that one (Adolpho was okay, Janet, and the Chaperone, I'd even say the gangster bakers were very talented).

    No need to take anything personal. I would definitely say that Mack and Mabel was a better show though, you're right in correcting me about that. Michael Leeds always does amazing work and I look forward to more from him. I just think Dan Kelley's shows usually miss the heart and the point of the pieces, ie. "Drowsy."

  10. Jim, I agree that the last anonymous was out of line; we all have different measures, and just because one person liked a show, it doesn't mean that everyone will follow suit.

    I saw a solid show, Jim didn't. We were there on different days, who knows which is the more accurate assessment? No one.

    This is why I link to numerous reviews; everyone is subjective, so one view doesn't give you the whole story. That doesn't mean that one view is right and the others are wrong;it means that everyone has their own experience of it. And that's wonderful.

  11. I saw Mack and Mabel TWICE (so far) because I simply couldn't get enough!

    Shane R Tanner is absolutely brilliant! One could put him on ANY stage, Broadway or otherwise, and he would deliver an incredibly professional performance as Mack Sennett!

    The rest of the cast (shout outs to Miss Gabrielle, Mr. Clement, and Mr. Levitt) is smart, talented, and earns their paychecks!!

    CONGRATS on an awesome show!

    NOT TO BE MISSED!!!!!!

    Congrats to all!

  12. The Miami Herald has declined to review this production.