Mack and Mabel deals with the complex relationship between Max Sennet, a temperamental, workaholic film director and Mabel Normand, a waitress who became one of his biggest stars. In a series of flashbacks, Sennett recalls the time he discovered Mabel back in 1911, her rise to stardom, their love affair, when she leaves him to work for the “serious” director W.D. Taylor and finally, her tragic death from a heroine overdose. In the end, Sennet creates his own happy ending plotting a scene in which he and Mabel marry.Synopsis complet
Ed Lester, the director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, suggested the project to Jerry Herman, who then involved Michael Stewart. David Merrick agreed to produce, and Gower Champion was engaged to direct and choreograph. Although Champion had initially declined the offer, he eventually accepted, especially when it was decided to hold the pre-Broadway tryouts in California. Robert Preston was hired as Mack. For the role of Mabel, several actresses were engaged and then let go, including Marcia Rodd and Kelly Garrett, before the young Bernadette Peters finally joined the cast.
Mack & Mabel opened in pre-Broadway tryouts in San Diego on June 17, 1974 and then Los Angeles, with brisk box office sales in both cities. According to The New York Times, " 'Mack and Mabel' has been doing rather better than its probable guarantee [in Los Angeles] – up to $150,000 in its final seven-day period." The musical received reviews that ranged "from fair to phenomenal in San Diego, Los Angeles, and St. Louis". The Los Angeles reviews were "encouraging but guarded", and warned "of the excessive comic sequences, uneven book, and, most especially, the dark ending." Buoyed by the critical response and initial public enthusiasm for the show, Herman and company ignored a number of warning signs. Neither Sennett nor Normand was a particularly lovable character, and their story was darker than that usually found in a musical. Preston (as Sennett) was too old for Peters (Mabel), and their characters lacked chemistry. Champion devised a number of eye-catching visual effects and spectacular dance sequences set to Philip J. Lang's orchestrations, but their brightness proved to be too great a contrast with the somber mood of the piece. His concept of setting the action in the corner of a huge studio soundstage created problems with the set and limited the staging to the extent that it was seen as static and boring. Audiences "were not ready for a down-beat saga about a cocaine-sniffing movie queen."
Efforts were made to resolve the problems at The Muny in St. Louis, where the musical ran for one week starting August 19, 1974, but this venue was a "terrible mistake". Because The Muny was so large, the performers overplayed and pulled the show out of shape. By the Washington, D.C. Kennedy Center engagement, "nothing was working", and Champion changed the staging of scenes that had previously worked. Richard Coe in his The Washington Post review stated that it had landed at the Kennedy Center "with all the zip of a wet, very dead flounder."
The musical opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway on October 6, 1974, and closed on November 30, 1974 after 66 performances and 6 previews. Scenic design was by Robin Wagner, costume design by Patricia Zipprodt, and lighting design by Tharon Musser. In addition to Preston and Peters, the cast featured Lisa Kirk as Lottie Ames and James Mitchell as William Desmond Taylor.
Despite only fair reviews and the short run, the show received eight Tony Award nominations: for Best Musical, the book, direction, choreography, lead actor, lead actress and designs but did not win any. Herman, whose melodic score had received the best notices, was not nominated. He was deeply disappointed, since the project had been one of his favorites (and remains so), and he felt producer David Merrick had done little to promote it, saying "He never invested in advertising. He never came to the theatre." Despite its failure, the show has developed a cult following.
Overture - Orchestra
Movies Were Movies - Mack
Look What Happened to Mabel - Mabel and Company
Big Time - Lottie Ames and Company
I Won't Send Roses - Mack and Mabel
I Wanna Make the World Laugh - Mack and Company
Wherever He Ain't - Mabel
Hundreds of Girls - Mack and Bathing Beauties
When Mabel Comes In the Room - Company
My Heart Leaps Up/Hit 'em on the Head - Mack
Time Heals Everything - Mabel
Tap Your Troubles Away - Lottie and Company
I Promise You a Happy Ending - Mack
Mack Sennett — A workaholic movie director
Mabel Normand — A deli delivery girl who becomes a movie star. Mack reluctantly becomes romantically involved with her.
William Desmond Taylor — A "serious" director, and rival for both Mabel's acting talents and her affections
Kleiman — An accountant
Fox — Kleiman's partner
Frank Wyman — An actor/writer, and later a director
Lottie Ames — A silent movie star
Subsequent revisions of the show have changed some character names to their real life counterparts from the era.
Frank Wyman - Frank Capra
Fatty - Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Kleiman - Adam Kessell
Fox - Charles O. Bauman
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Copyright 20XX.Company Inc. All Rights Reserved.