BASED on the true-life romance between silent era moviemaker Mack Sennett and his heroine Mabel Normand, the latest revival of this cult 1974 Broadway musical is a bit of a mixed bag.
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It starts with Mack reminiscing about when he, a tyrannical director whose love for two-reel comedies introduced film-goers to the Keystone Cops and custard pie fights, “ran the show”.
Suddenly, it’s almost 30 years earlier, as Mabel walks onto Mack’s Brooklyn film set for the first time. A deli worker delivering food, her violent reaction to a non-paying actor convinces Mack the gal has acting talent.
Although Mack has hit after hit, it doesn’t keep the accountants off his back and before the first act is over, his rough diamond, limited by her beau’s low-brow movies, is ready to jump ship and hook up with a more chic director.
Despite Michael Ball’s commanding performance and the three show-stopping pieces of choreography that accompany the Bathing Beauties, Keystone Cops and Tap Your Troubles Away scenes, songs are on the whole instantly forgettable.
Things perk up in the second act, as the main characters indulge in some genuine drama when scenes become more poignant – Mack and Mabel’s final segment together is beautifully tragic.
Production-wise, a couple of nifty optical illusions involving a train and a steamliner add nice visual touches to the set. And while Rebecca LaChance gives a jazzy performance as Mabel, it’s Ball who many gave a standing ovation. Rightly so, too.
Overall, most will enjoy Ball’s charismatic stagecraft, reassuringly he’s rarely off-stage, and unlike most cult shows, it’s worth seeing, if just the once.
Until 21 November