Variety magazine once called the musical Mame "the sort of song-and-dance blockbuster that is a requisite for every Broadway season."
So it should make a proper topper for Richey Suncoast Theatre, which started out its 2011-12 season with the dark musical Cabaret in September, continued with two zany comedies and last presented a quirky, twisty-turny musical, City of Angels, in February.
Indeed, Mame is a sweet, straightforward story filled with composer-lyricist Jerry Herman's hummable music, which appears to be an effective way to conclude the year with a positive flair.
Based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, it's the story of the bohemian Mame Dennis (Kathryn Tilley, Tommy Award for Svetlana in Chess), the ultimate party girl, er, woman, of the latter days of the roaring '20s. Mame's high-end apartment in Manhattan's tony Beekman Place is the site for an almost ongoing cocktail party, with only the most sophisticated of sophisticates in attendance.
Into one of these parties arrives 10-year-old Patrick (Tad Andris), the son of Mame's brother, who has recently died and left his only son in Mame's care. At first, Mame is nonplussed. A preteen simply doesn't fit into her lifestyle and isn't particularly welcomed by her flighty friends, especially her child-averse best friend, stage star Vera Charles (Lynn Yarbrough, HAMI as Anna in The King and I).
Even so, Mame is smitten by Patrick and is determined to introduce him to the world and all its joys. As she often says, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."
She's supported by longtime admirer Lindsey Woolsey (Norman Chester), but thwarted by the executor of Patrick's estate, the stuffy Dwight Babcock (Rich Aront, Stanley in Caught in the Net). When Mame's freewheeling child-rearing ways go beyond Babcock's tolerance level, Patrick is shipped off to boarding school, much to Mame's dismay.
Meanwhile, the stock market crashes and Mame loses her fortune, whereupon she fumbles her way in and out of a series of inappropriate (for her, anyway) jobs. Along the way, she meets the gallant Southern gentleman Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Bob Marcela, John Smith in Run for Your Wife), who rescues her, Patrick and the household staff — Japanese butler Ito (C.J. Fowler, Ellard in The Foreigner) and secretary-nanny Agnes Gooch (Tracie Callahan, Aunt Sue in No, No, Nanette) — from a dismal Christmas (We Need a Little Christmas). Beau later takes Mame south to meet Mother Burnside (Heather Clark) at his Peckerwood Plantation, where Mame fails to impress Beau's Cousin Fan (Cathy Smith) or the woman who hoped to marry him, Sally Cato (JoAnn Larson).
Mame's adventures and misadventures continue, as Patrick grows up into someone Mame didn't expect or want, and it's this turn of events upon which the musical turns.
The novel was made into a successful Broadway play, Auntie Mame, in 1956, then into a movie in 1958 and finally as Mame, the successful Broadway musical, in 1966. A 1974 movie of the musical version starring Lucille Ball was generally considered a disaster because of inept casting and senseless plot additions. A 1983 Broadway revival had a surprisingly short run.
Yet the play and the musical continue as favorites in community and regional theaters and with audiences.
The Richey Suncoast version has a cast of 37, with Jacki Doxey Scott as musical director and Linda Hougland as choreographer. Director is Marie Skelton.