MACK AND MABEL by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman, revised by Francine Pascal, directed by Molly Smith (Shaw). At the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 28. $45-$95. 1-800-511-7429.
TRISTAN by Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey, directed by Eda Holmes (Shaw). At the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 6. $45-$89. 1-800-511-7429.
Trust the Shaw Festival to treat audiences to unusual material.
Benedict Campbell and Glynis Ranney earn their ovations as Mack And Mabel.
Its musicals this year have roots in two continents and two different sensibilities. Mack And Mabel plays with a fascinating bit of film history, while Tristan takes its cues from a short story by Thomas Mann .
The two share a crucial element of darkness in tone and plot; unfortunately, they also both have story problems.
Mack And Mabel, from a book by Michael Stewart, and with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (the book was revised by Francine Pascal in 1995), traces the intertwined careers of early Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, his sometime star on- and offscreen, to whom he plays Pygmalion.
It's an ambitious show, narrated in flashback by the self-centred Sennett, with some moving small-scale scenes alternating with big production numbers involving Sennett film creations the Keystone Kops and a bevy of bathing beauties.
Herman's songs are more involving than the revised, surface-skimming book, while Baayork Lee 's choreography is too staid. But director Molly Smith and musical director Paul Sportelli have worked some real magic here, especially in the show's more private moments. In fact, Mack And Mabel has the feel of a two-hander in which the other characters largely provide window dressing.
Luckily, with Benedict Campbell and Glynis Ranney in the leads, there's enough chemistry onstage to let you overlook the fact that no one else is fleshed out. A shame, given the quality of the cast, which includes such talents as Patty Jamieson , Neil Barclay and the big-voiced and big-personality Gabrielle Jones .
The premiere of an 11-actor musical is something to celebrate, even though Sportelli and Jay Turvey 's Tristan is too thin a story on which to build a two-and-a-half-hour show.
Set in a mountain sanatorium that provides rest cures for the wealthy, the story focuses on the growing but doomed relationship between young mother and wife Gabrielle Kloterjahn (Ranney) and the dreamy, romantic writer Detlev Spinell ( Jeff Madden ). Woven into their story are musical and narrative echoes of another tragic love affair, that of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.
Most of the characters, for that matter, are thwarted in their love for at least part of the show, and the eccentric figures make for some juicy theatre, especially in the hands of the talented Shaw cast and director Eda Holmes . Standouts are Jamieson as the micro-managing, regimented, yearning-for-romance Fraulein von Osterloh and Donna Belleville as the busybody Frau Spatz. Too bad, though, that Madden doesn't infuse Spinell with more emotion.
The composers' songs are often elegant and moving, alternately simple and richly textured, their lyrics clever. The narrative, however, with its talk of art and love, is too stretched-out to hold our interest.
The incontestable star of both shows is the marvellous Ranney, who goes to the heart of both her characters and offers the audience, in song and dialogue, their pain and their joy. I saw both shows the same day and, I promise you, Ranney reigns.