‘Mame’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater

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Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents Mame, the musical sensation based on the novel by Patrick Dennis and the play Auntie Mame, by Lawrence and Lee. With the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, Dann Dunn directs and choreographs this classic Broadway musical.

Sandy Bainum (Mame)> Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Sandy Bainum (Mame Dennis). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Riverside Center’s status continues to climb in the DC Metro area, and the venue is undergoing extensive renovations to better serve their growing audience, and my favorite change is the addition of a live orchestra, conducted in this production by Musical Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy. The orchestra includes a keyboardist (McCoy himself), trumpeter Jessica Merritt, trombonist Doug Elliot, bassist Cyndy Elliot, drummer David Long, and Ron Pronk and Dana Gardner on reeds. Live music can be tricky and adds numerous layers of technical challenges to be dealt with (vocals being drowned out and microphone feedback being the biggest threats), and happily, both the music and the mic’d actors were crystal clear with expert acoustics.

Scenic Designer Benjamin Burke decorates Mame’s posh NYC apartment with “modern” decor and furniture (modern for the late 1920’s, that is–there was a lot of abstract art) and a grand staircase, atop which we fittingly first see Mame, the ultra-glamorous eccentric with a heart of Gold played by Sandy Bainum. Costumer Gaye Law dresses Bainum in elaborate outfits to fit Mame’s personality; sparkles, satins, and silks, and luxurious fur shawls sweep the stage. Lighting Designer Kathryn Moncure continues Riverside’s signature use of spotlighting, best used in the number “My Best Girl.”

When the young orphaned Patrick Dennis (Ethan Theriot as the younger Patrick and Luke Newsome as the older Patrick) finds himself living with his wealthy aunt Mame (Sandy Bainum), the two embark together on a lifetime of adventures.

The show starts off strongly with “It’s Today,” an upbeat number with lively group choreography. Mame is a free-spirited woman with a passion for life, and encourages Patrick to engage in mature experiences in the number “Open a New Window.” These experiences– an all-nude preparatory school and nightclub raids amongst them– infuriate Patrick’s trustee, Mr. Babcock (Robert Beard), who insists on sending Patrick away to a strict Christian boarding school. While her methods of raising Patrick are indeed controversial, there is no question that Mame loves Patrick immensely, and the two form a close bond that sees them into an uncertain future.

The duo find their lives in an upheaval after the stock market crash and ensuing depression. Mame finds herself struggling to keep a job, and the sullen family decides to celebrate Christmas early with the optimistic “We Need a Little Christmas.” While Mame is not a holiday show per se, the holidays are not completely overlooked this year at Riverside! As the years go by, Mame and Patrick’s relationship go through challenges as they both grow older. Finally, when Patrick becomes engaged to the type of woman who Mame strongly disapproves of, a choice must be made.

Sally Struthers (Agnes Gooch,) and Ethan Theriot (Young Patrick Dennis). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Sally Struthers (Agnes Gooch,) and Ethan Theriot (Young Patrick Dennis). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

The cast here is stellar, with Sandy Bainum giving a strong vocal and comedic performance in the title role. Her heartbreaking rendition of “If He Walked Into My Life” was a tour de force.

Of course, the audience fell in love with the incomparable Sally Struthers, who takes the role of Patrick’s nanny Agnes and gets a lot of laughs with her well-known physical comedy. Leaving no opportunity unturned, Struthers manages to turn the task of pulling off her shoes into a laughable moment.One of the most applauded numbers of the show was Struthers’ showstopper “Gooch’s Song.” She nailed it!

My favorite performance of the night was Kathy Halenda as Vera Charles, Mame’s lush of a best friend, with whom she shares a love/hate relationship.

Kathy Halenda (Vera Charles). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Kathy Halenda (Vera Charles). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

In a Scene-Stealing performance, Halenda shares a duet with Bainum in the number “Bosom Buddies,” a song dripping with tension in its passive-aggressive lyrics and personal zingers. It’s hilarious and so is Halenda’s performance.

If you need a little Christmas, Riverside Center Dinner Theater’s entertaining Mame will fill you with the holiday spirit. Mame is a holiday treat!

Running Time: Approximately three hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Mame plays through January 17, 2015 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater at The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations, call (540) 370-4300.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

Note: I strongly recommend you order the scrumptious 7-layer cake on the menu. Like the show, it’s a winner too!

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