It’s always exciting to see Michael in a new show. We usually try not to read too much about the show beforehand as we want to be surprised and open-minded. Basically it might always be a risk to buy tickets for a show before you know what to expect, but then again, we trust Michael in his judgement and he has not disappointed us yet…. Therefore we were not too fazed to keep reading the musical has never been a success before.
The main character and narrator is Mack Sennett. He’s been one of the most successful silent movie directors and discovered Mabel Normand. She swiftly became the star of all his movies and they developed an intimate relationship that rather lacks the classic romantic elements of your average relationship. This is probably best described with the ultimate anti-love song “I won’t send roses". Also you will find that there is no duet between the two leads. In the end the sound film revolutionises the movie industry and makes the big names of the silent movie era obsolete. It is probably appropriate to warn you that there will not be a happy ending.
Once the overture finishes, an old Mack Sennett enters his studios for one last time, wearing a Persian Lamb fur coat and a hat. The days of his biggest successes long gone, he reminisces a different time, when “Movies were Movies”. Mack starts the projector, watching clips of “my Mabel”. When he goes centre stage lighting rigs are pulled up around him, revealing fabric sheets that function as screens. Silent movie scenes are projected with Mack shimmering through the sheets. The effect is as mesmerizing as is Mack’s booming voice. He becomes more and more agitated, as the sheets fall, the coat is gone and suddenly Mack is young again and we are in 1911.
The whole story is told by the old Mack Sennett in flashbacks. Sometimes it’s done with a break between scenes, sometimes Mack would hold up his hand and stop the scenes mid–action, to tell what happened, like a freeze frame in movies. And sometimes he would just switch mid-sentence and even mid-quarrel to the old Mack, telling himself off for behaving so stupidly. Michael shines in these scenes. He makes the transitions believable. His whole stance changes and it is always clear which Mack is standing before us.
The set is simple but very clever. When we drive to California by train, the whole train is there, including smoking chimneys, movement and all is projected on screens at the back of the stage. The same goes for another scene, when Mabel is about to set sail and we are standing in front of a tall transatlantic ship. The mix of theatre and movie magic is, of course, most appropriate.
Other highlights of the shows include the silent movie scenes shot especially for the show. Rebecca LaChance has the perfect face for this era and we would have gladly watched the entire films to the snippets they show us.
And then there is the slaptick element. Most noticably in the Keystone Kops routine but there are many numbers dedicated to this form of comedy - and believe us, they still work! Just as they did then. The audience never failed to respond with Mack’s favourite sound: laughter. Especially the scene of the “Keystone Kops” was breathtakingly choreographed and all those sitting in seats A13/A14 will be in for a little shock, when they become suspects at one point.
The choreography is simply amazing. We were delighted to see that Michael has more dancing to do than we ever expected and with very nimble feet, too. But we knew is is a great dancer, of course.
When it comes to the cast Michael was absolutely right. They are all fantastic and just perfect for their respective roles. There is no weak link. The young ensemble is outstanding, dancing their talented feet off to make sure we all are thoroughly entertained.
You’d expect us to say Michael was fabulous, and yes he was and still is. Just like Sweeney he is able to show off his unique voice, but not only his voice, his acting as well. It breaks your heart, when he says “I cannot lose my Mabel”. You have to be completely cold hearted, when she is all broken in midst of scandals and deep into her drug addiction and he tries to get her back on screen and orders her to “One – turn – two – wipe your eyes – three – smile – four – smile”. The final song (I promise you a happy ending) reminded us very much of the Alone Together (How could I lose you). Equally heartbreaking and sung with exquisit precision.
Michael is funny, cruel, loud, playful and basically becomes Mack Sennett, a difficult and very driven director and producer, who cannot be bothered to fall in love, as romance would slow him down and only detract from his focus: making the world laugh.
Rebecca LaChance is a revelation. Just seeing her makes you believe she has just stepped out of a silent movie. She has the look. She holds the stage on her own. Her voice is so effortless throughout the whole show, eventhough this slender person has to belt out some serious money notes. Also she manages to make us look at her even when Michael is on stage and those who know us will realise what an achievement this is! LOL
As a side remark to her casting: We were at a pre-show talk with Jonathan Church (the director) on our second day and he told the audience about the casting of Mabel, which has to be one of the key factors of the show. There has to be chemistry between the actors playing Mack and Mabel, otherwise it will be difficult to convince the audience. So they searched in the UK, but did not find a suitable young actress. They went to the US and several castings later found Rebecca. She had a great rapport with Michael from the beginning and was not shy or scared in his presence. Essential for the part, of course. A lot of respect, yes, but not so much awe that it gets in the way.
Anna Jane Casey is amazing as Lottie. We’ve read of one critic that she got it all wrong as the role was meant to be mellow and should ground Mack. Casey’s Lottie certainly is different. She gives him as good as she gets and that fits her part and the show just fine, in our humble opinion. She is cynical but not cold. Just a strong woman. And she is an incredible dancer. Her big solo number is “Tap your troubles away” and god did she do that.
As you might remember, we have been lucky enough attend the press night. The second one we have ever been to. We were so eager for everything to go right for this fantastic show and its hard-working cast. But sadly technology let them down badly. The good thing is: None of the reviewers seems to have noticed it! Or at least they didn’t mention it.
We described the opening scene with the projections. It’s a truly impressive opening to the show, fusing musicals and movies. Michael was standing at the side, looking up at the screen and usually a short film sequence of the young Mabel comes up. But nothing happened. He waited for a beat but then did the only thing he could: go on with the show. Once the lighting rigs were pulled up the projection started, but then stuck and instead of a movie, we only got some scattered stills, which were better than nothing. The projections later in the show worked (thank heavens!) but it was such a shame as this opening scene really is impressive and sets the tone so beautifully. Naturally it has worked at all previous shows and all of the following. Just not at press night. Sod’s law.
There were several sightings of famous people we have seen over the days. Of course Cathy and Callum were there for Press Night. We also spotted Lenny Henry in the audience the day after Press Night. On Monday we saw Jason Carr and Jonathan Kent (pianist and director of “Alone Together”).
Mack and Mabel is a fabulous show. It has everything anyone could possibly want: sweeping ensemble numbers, touching solos, AMAZING dancing, outstanding singing, a fantastic band and score plus a few film scenes thrown in on top. The music and the cast are outstanding. Everyone really should go and see it. Actually we really recommend to see the show at least twice. No, we are not paid by the producers, but the one thing we learned was that everyone enjoyed the second time even more than the first. So go online or get to the theatre and get your tickets. Now!
What a week we had with our Dr. Ball OBE. Can you tell we were rather busy. So busy in fact, that we did not manage to put up even a single blog entry, while we were in Chichester.
Okay, so the good news is we won’t bother you with our travel stories (delayed flight to London, then 45 minutes wait for the luggage etc. etc.), we won’t moan for ages for having missed Michael leave on Friday by a mere 3 minutes. No, we won’t. Instead we will cut to the chase: the stage doors.
One of the questions that’s most people asked was: what about the stage door? Since Sweeney they had a complete refurbishment of the Festival Theatre, meaning some of the outbuildings were torn down and rebuild and the outer area re-structured. They made a beautiful job of it and I am sure the stars of the shows will really appreciate the changes. The stage door area is completely fenced off. There is a small path at the side of the theatre, where the cast can enter by foot and there is a huge gate and drive, leading to a parking area, where Michael (and, of course, every other star they have) can park his car. The fence gives them some security and safety towards overeager fans.
So what is different really? We kept sitting on the benches close to the stage door area and we would see Michael drive around the corner. Then we all walked over to the driveway. He would pull over, lower the window and wait for us there to have a chat. A nice half circle always formed and we could talk to him while he sat in his car. The people who’d want a photo could have one, the same went for signatures and so on. Once the people had it, they would rejoin the circle. It’s always been such a relaxed affair and once done Michael would drive inside and we’d leave him alone. Plus side: there was no pushing and shoving and everyone who wanted to talk to him had a fair chance to do so. Downside: we could only ever see him through the window. Crying shame as he used to wear shorts and trust us, he is looking so slim and trim, we would have given a lot for a full body photo. However, we are quite sure Michael enjoys these “drive-thru stage doors” tremendously as it means, no one is really able to grab him or touch him at places no one wants to be touched at by strangers. Unfortunately there will always be those who get carried away and won’t respect limits.
After the shows Michael usually got out of the side exit to sign stuff and pose for photos. We don’t want to flash him though and therefore don’t have any photos of those occasions. Everyone waiting for him would be served. Then he will get back into the car and drive off and we could wave him good-bye. I sincerely hope people will stay as relaxed and it can stay like that for the rest of the run.