I confess I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the complex title character of Mame. I saw this 1966 piece produced by the all-volunteer Footlite Musicals company at the Hedback Theater Saturday night.
Mame’s motto is “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” When her 10-year-old orphaned nephew comes to live with her, she encourages him to live as fully as he can, even though his financial guardian would have him go to a conservative boarding school. Mame is both passionate and compassionate, fiercely independent and not always wise, yet always capable of deep love and faithfulness.
Holly Hathaway brings Mame to life admirably, both in terms of her beautiful singing voice and her acting skills. I thought I knew the character pretty well already but under John Phillips’ direction, Hathaway showed me appealing nuances I hadn’t considered before.
There are other performance treats among the cast and several treats in the design elements of the show, including gorgeous and/or witty costumes by Karen Webster, Jeff Farley, and Greg Smith. Smith’s solar system headpiece made me laugh out loud with delight.
There is also a satisfying attention to detail in the huge, painted backdrops and the rest of the set pieces designed by Jerry Beasley and decorated by Jeff Farley.
I could hear every word (sound design by Zach Rosing), which has not always been true of Footlite productions in the past, and the spotlight work was flawless.
In some ways, though, this is a very safe production, which felt odd and a little disappointing, given the boldness of Mame herself. The orchestra members sometimes sounded as if they were phoning it in, for example. Sometimes some of the ensemble members looked as if they were. Some of the artistic choices were too tame for my taste too.
If you don’t know the story, you might think this musical is over at intermission because the first act ends with a “and they lived happily ever after” feel. However, they didn’t. Even with its flaws, the second act is interesting and fun too, so be sure to go back for it.