Talkie Worth Talking About:
Sunday’s matinée of the rare gem Mack and Mabel was made especially fun amongst an audience of shall we say, advanced maturity. Director C. Michael Traw quipped that this opening matinée audience might have special first-hand knowledge of the subject matter; Silent film director Mack Sennett and his comic protegé Mabel Normand, and he was not far from the truth. Whether you remember the original runs of silent films or not, you can’t help but laugh and marvel at the ingenuity of what these first cinemaphiles created, and the dedication they had to their art form that was really still in its infancy. From every prat-fall to car crash to train bridge collapse, these professionals were dedicated to their craft and I think we often forget in a word of CGI and stunt doubles that it wasn’t always that way. All this to say, this is a story that I’m glad is told.
The era itself has all the making of a film! Chock full of glamour, excitement, scandal, risk, technological pioneering, and nostalgia it’s all captured wonderfully in South Bay Musical Theatre’s production. From the lovely silent film opening “credits” shown along with the live orchestrated overture, to the period hats, props and dialogue of the show, there’s a wonderful feel about this production that totally sucks you back in time.
There’s a focus on the art of comedy in this show that I certainly enjoyed personally. As a director myself, I’m a firm believer that you can not teach comic timing. You have it or you don’t. These actors have it for sure, and although Mack Sennett claims to have “counted” Mabel to stardom, her opposite stance on the matter provides a vehicle for the actors playing Mack and Mabel to show their grasp of timing.
Chemistry is nearly as hard to manufacture as comic timing and this cast (and this show) had no problem with chemistry. The contrasting visual of a very tall Mack to a rather petite Mabel was fully taken advantage of and paralleled nicely with the running “Make them Laugh” theme of the play. The supporting cast fit in well and rounded out a good feel for the historical reality of the plot as well as some of the darker more emotional arcs.
Only one major criticism, and oddly enough, it’s that the show wasn’t memorable from a musical standpoint for me. Perhaps one of the reasons the show’s not done very often is its lack of clear show-stopping number or a song whose melody lingers beyond the curtain call. The performers had the vocal chops, just not a lot of stunning musical material to work with. Not to worry though, what this strange musical lacks in, well… music, it makes up for with an interesting and entertaining storyline and solid, well thought out, emotional performances. Mack and Mabel earns an easy 3 1/2 out of five crown jewels and plays through June 4th in Saratoga.