Thursday, February 22, 2018
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Richey Suncoast Theatre treats 'Mame' just right

Theater-goers in the mood for a sweet story and hummable tunes done quite nicely by a talented cast could do no better than Jerry Herman's musical Mame, a paean to free spirits and adventuresome women, playing weekends through May 27 at Richey Suncoast Theatre.

Kathryn Tilley puts a new spin on Mame Dennis, the resolute single woman who maintains an ongoing party with an eccentric and esoteric crowd — until the arrival of her recently orphaned nephew Patrick (Tad Andris), which puts her in the unfamiliar role of mommy surrogate.

Ms. Tilley plays the traditionally warm-hearted Mame as broad and brassy, but even so, young Andris' Patrick warms up to her and relishes the carefree life she leads and urges him to lead to the recurring refrains of Open a New Window and It's Today.

Although Andris has been in holiday shows at Richey Suncoast, this is his first major part, and his near-perfect pitch and winning manner charm the audience as much as they do Mame and her cohorts.

Indeed, director Marie Skelton and musical director Jacki Doxie Scott's show is blessed with many fine voices and actors, including Tracie Callahan as the hilarious nanny/secretary Agens Gooch; Lynn Yarbrough as Mame's best friend, the thoroughly, but acidly, delightful stage star, Vera Charles; Chris Cavalier as a likable grown-up Patrick; and a strong, sizable chorus.

Richey Suncoast veteran Rich Aront is perfectly cast as Patrick's uptight financial guardian Dwight Babcock, all full of pompous self-righteousness and the direct opposite of the free-wheeling Mame. Award-winning actor Bob Marcela makes a beguiling Southern gentleman as Mame's rescuer/husband, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside; and JoAnn Larson is simply fetching as the simpering Southern belle Sally Cato.

Heather Clark is just right as the imperious Mother Burnside, who is determined to dislike Mame but eventually succumbs to her spunk. Kelly Hanley and Jim Laird are winningly courageous as the snobby Mr. and Mrs. Upson, forgoing their own dignity to give their characters gleeful physical humor.

Several minor roles are made memorable by actors Ingrid Steele as the beauty spa manager Madame Branislowski; the always delightful CJ Fowler as Mame's eager houseboy Ito; a lowkey, sophisticated Norman Chester as Mame's faithful suitor Lindsey Woolsey; a suitably pretentious Tommy Henthorne as Babcock's son, Junior; a lovely-to-look-at Allison Iskowitz as the not surprisingly snobby Gloria Upson; a winsome Alyson Larkin as Mame's choice for Patrick, Pegeen Ryan; and an adorable Tiffani Cruz as Mame's grand-nephew, Peter Dennis.

The musical moves along quickly, with no long blackouts, thanks to clever set and light design by director Skelton. It's visually pleasing, thanks to scenic artists Bill Lewis and Phil Hombledal. And costume-makers Mary Bramham, Ms. Skelton and the cast outdid themselves, especially for the three leading ladies.

Those seeing the show for the first time will be entertained at every turn, and those seeing it again will be pleased that this theater favorite gets good treatment at Richey Suncoast.

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