Friday, 14 August 2015

Mack & Mabel

Michael Ball shines in this song-packed production of a classic love story

Written by Melonie Clarke
MelMichael Ball and Rebecca LaChance take centre stage as Mack and Mabel in this revival of Jerry Herman’s musical.

Ball narrates the story in a series of flashbacks, reliving the glory days when Mack was the cream of the crop of moviemaking in his Keystone Studios, Hollywood, from 1911.

Admitting early on that his two obsessions in life were Mabel and making movies, he gives us the tale of making slapstick two-reelers (short silent films) and his discovering and falling in love with the kid from the deli, Mabel.

All goes well for a while – his studio churns out a great number of successful hits with Mabel as the star, and the two are in love, despite Mack’s honesty in admitting he isn’t a romantic guy, highlighted in the number I Won’t Send Roses, which Ball sings perfectly. But eventually artistic differences (Mabel wants to be taken for a serious artist, whereas Mack wants to make the world laugh) see the two part ways, physically that is, but not emotionally.

There were times during the first half where LaChance’s ability to fulfil the role is doubtful; her numbers sung with little gusto – was she using the first half as a warm-up? But the second half is her saving grace – her rendition of Time Heals Everything induced goosebumps.

Ball is quite literally on the ball for the entire production, performing his numbers apparently without effort, achieving roars from the crowd every time. He doesn’t carry the show, he is supported by a fantastic ensemble of cast and chorus, but it’s his performance that makes this show a potential West End transfer.

Anna-Jane Casey (Lottie) was hand-picked as the principal soloist for the John Wilson Orchestra’s BBC Proms Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom, Broadway Sound, and Hollywood Swinging Christmas; her casting as Lottie for her old-school sound is a stroke of genius. And she does not disappoint, hitting every note and keeping everyone’s feet tapping in the dance number Tap Your Troubles Away.

There are a number of endings this production could have chosen; the one used here is perhaps the one with slightly less impact, but if this is the first time you are seeing it, you won’t be left disappointed or dry-eyed.

Both a poignant love story and a tribute to the heyday of movie-making, this is old-time entertainment at its very best.

Until 5 September at Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex: 01243- 781312,

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