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'Mame' needs a stronger supporting cast

Mary Ellin Kurtz stars in the title role

Mary Ellin Kurtz stars in the title role of "Mame" with her "nephew" Christian Arma at CM Performing Arts Center, Oakdale. Jill Cohen-Wilson plays Mame on Saturday, Wednesday's matinee, and the last four shows of the run, through May 22. Credit: Handout

Jerry Herman's 1966 chestnut "Mame" has been produced so often that ordinarily it would not attract our attention.

But in this case, "Mame" is the first show at CM Performing Arts Center directed by Edward Brennan, co-owner/ artistic director of Airport Playhouse, which closed in December. Brennan and his wife, Terry, a marketing whiz, brought their talents, along with 450 subscribers, to Oakdale at the invitation of CM executive director Noel Ruiz. An audience-choice favorite at Airport, "Mame" was to be part of its season. Mary Ellin Kurtz, a popular and admired star of Long Island theater, was cast in the title role.

Kurtz comes through in grand style on the spacious stage at CM. (Airport's space was cramped beneath a low ceiling.) Set designer Chris Kenyon creates a posh abode for the conspicuous Mame, while Ronald Green III's sparkling costumes allow hostess and guests to play extravagant dress-up. Young Christian Arma makes a suitably adorable 10-year-old as Mame's nephew and only living relative who moves in with her after her brother dies. Kristen Gustafson teams amusingly -- and on key -- with Kurtz on "Bosom Buddies." And Emily Nadler as ridiculously pregnant Agnes Gooch nails a note so high that it should induce labor.

So much for the good news.

The 1929 stock market crash dampens Mame's party, and her nephew is packed off to boarding school. A rich Southern aristocrat comes to Mame's rescue in time to save nephew Patrick from matrimonial disaster. Kurtz soldiers on with her ever- dependable chops, while many around her flounder with pitchy solos and stiff gestures. We won't embarrass these volunteers. But we will point fingers at the lifeless recorded score that fails to rise to a crescendo even on the title number. (We suspect sound designer Michael Santangelo merely turns up the volume, as Mame might on her Victrola.)

There's not much a director can do if talent doesn't audition. Singing your heart out for free may appeal to some actors looking to stretch their repertoire in a new (or recent) theatrical adventure. But a warhorse like "Mame" -- and the chance to hear "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" in May -- isn't one of those shows.



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