Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Mame, which has a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and a score by Jerry Herman, and was based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, is set in New York City, beginning during prohibition and moving forward over a period of twenty years through the Great Depression and ending in the late 1940s. The plot follows an orphan boy named Patrick who is sent to live with his only remaining relative, his madcap Auntie Mame whose life of decadence and hedonism is turned upside down by Patrick's arrival. While at first, she is reluctant at the thought of having to be responsible for the young boy, Mame quickly forms a strong bond with him and sets about to teach him about life, declaring "Life's a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death." As both Mame and Patrick grow older and find love, Patrick's independence and choice in a spouse and Mame's stubbornness threaten to test their once strong bond.
Renée Kathleen Koher has appeared in dozens of shows at Arizona Broadway Theatre and her portrayal of Mame is wonderful. She looks glamorous and radiant and is appropriately eccentric and larger than life, yet she never pushes so far as to become unbelievable. Her connection with her fellow cast members is authentic and her clear singing voice soars on her many songs, including a heartfelt and moving "If He Walked into My Life." It is another winning performance from Koher.
The role of the young Patrick Dennis is double cast and was played by AJ Riddle at the performance I attended in a portrayal that is charming, sweet and sincere. Riddle and Koher have a great bond on stage that makes for an affectionate, thoughtful, and natural relationship between Mame and Patrick. Ryan Ardelt plays the older Patrick and does a fine job in addition to also showing off his exceptional dance skills in the ensemble in the first act. As Vera Charles, Mame's closest friend, Carolyn McPhee is lush, bold and brassy, and her duet with Koher on the comical song "Bosom Buddies" is a highlight of the show.
Dwan Hayes plays Agnes Gooch, Patrick's nanny. Agnes has lived such a sheltered life that she is shocked at first by Mame's lifestyle. Hayes is good in the role, but misses some of the wacky humor of the part. Max Mendoza is bright and charming as Mame's butler, Ito. Steve McCoy is strong and warm as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, the man Mame falls in love with, and Alden Caple is firm as Dwight Babcock, the strict and ultra-conservative banker who is the executor of Patrick's father's will and who has a say in how Patrick is brought up. Brody Wurr is fun as Babcock's son, and Michael Weaver not only provides fairly solid direction but also does a nice job portraying both Beauregard's fierce mother and the father of the woman Patrick falls in love with. The ensemble members play numerous roles where they shine and they are also all exceptional dancers.
The choreography by Kurtis Overby is excellent, especially the energetic steps for the title song that build to a rousing climax. Lizzie Webb's music direction delivers perfect notes from the large cast and the small orchestra. The set design by Douglas A Clarke has some lovely period touches and several moving set pieces and drops that work very well to depict the many locations in the show. Cassandra Klaphake's costumes are wonderful, especially the many gorgeous gowns for Koher. The sound design by Jesse Worley is bright and clear and Bret Reese's lighting is colorful and sharp.
Mame at Arizona Broadway Theatre is a first-rate production of this classic musical.
Mame runs through February 26, 2023, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623 776-8400.
Direction by Michael Weaver