- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Has your tinsel lost its twinkle? Free-spirited Auntie Mame (Cathy Mundy) and her cohorts in the whoopee-driven life will put you in the proper seasonal mood with Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s spry production of Jerry Herman’s musical “Mame.”

Mr. Herman’s music and lyrics shine with a sis-boom-bah brand of optimism that eventually wins you over with their unremitting good cheer. These are infectious, upbeat songs that practically hold you hostage to happiness. After a few rounds of the rousing title song, “Mame,” it is almost unpatriotic not to feel uplifted.

You also cannot help but be captivated by the show’s star, who starts out as a carefree jazz baby from the Roaring ‘20s determined to live each moment to the fullest. Even taking on the guardianship of her 10-year-old nephew Patrick (Raymond Brodsky) doesn’t turn Mame into a stodgy soccer mom.

She oozes glamour and enthusiasm as she exposes Patrick to New York’s uptown and downtown scenes, world travel, different cultures and a richly bohemian life — detailed in the peppy marching-band beat of the song “Open a New Window.” Everything is meant to broaden Patrick’s mind and sensibilities, which works beautifully until the boy is sent to boarding school in New England and becomes briefly enamored of clench-jawed WASPs.

Mame doesn’t exactly sail through the decades herself.



Left penniless after the stock-market crash, she whips through a series of odd jobs from vacuum-cleaner saleswoman to manicurist and sunnily fails at every one. Her greatest talent, it seems, is for living, and that trait attracts the attention of a wealthy Southern gentleman, Beauregard (David Reynolds), who woos her and whisks her off on a years-long honeymoon.

After Beauregard dies, Mame is rich once again, but not idle. Her endless curiosity and largess lead her to write her memoirs and open a home for single mothers in the previously “restricted” Connecticut countryside.

The musical is a story of Mame’s triumph — over adversity, over conventionality, over the encroachments of aging. At the end of the show, she may be getting on in years, but she is still willing to pop off to India, to learn the Lindy Hop dances of the 1940s and to be an eccentric and loving aunt to Patrick’s offspring.

The snazzy songs match the show’s inspirational message, which also is reflected in Carole Graham Lehan’s dynamic staging and Roger Bennett Ringle’s quick-witted choreography.

The dances range from a lively Charleston in the song “It’s Today” to a Busby Berkeley-style fantasy sequence in best friend Vera Charles’ (Debra Barber-Eaton) big number, “The Moon Song,” to the precision chorus-line dancing in the title song, “Mame,” that puts you in mind of the Rockettes. The ensemble singing is up to the usual impeccable standards of Toby’s, with some of the harmonies soaring to shivery heights.

Miss Mundy combines the innate sophistication and grand-heartedness of Mame, and her slightly husky singing voice adds deft maturity to the songs. Miss Barber-Eaton plays her cocktail-loving best friend, histrionic actress Vera Charles, with a comically smoky delivery that occasionally slips into leaden parody — she needn’t try so hard.

Mr. Brodsky’s high, sweet soprano voice makes for a wistful, affecting young Patrick, and he is ably succeeded by Kurt Boehm as the adult Patrick. As the suppressed nanny Agnes Gooch, Kristin Jefferson displays a powerhouse singing voice and flair for physical comedy.

“Mame” is old-fashioned in its structure, melody and drive to deliver a feel-good musical. No sense in resisting — old timey can be timeless, particularly during the holiday season.

***

WHAT: “Mame,” music and lyrics by Jerry Herman

WHERE: Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (doors open at 6 p.m. for dinner); 12:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (doors open at 10:30 a.m. for brunch); 7 p.m. Sundays (doors open at 5 p.m. for dinner). Through Feb. 19.

TICKETS: 27.50 to $46

PHONE: 800/88TOBYS

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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