Review: “Life is a banquet” with Nancy Hays as Mame

From left: Nic Fantl (Beauregard), Nancy Hays (Mame), Alexander Wu (Ito), Alicia Berneche (Agnes Gooch) and Zachary Scott Fewkes (Patrick). Phot Mona Luan
From left: Nic Fantl (Beauregard), Nancy Hays (Mame), Alexander Wu (Ito), Alicia Berneche (Agnes Gooch) and Zachary Scott Fewkes (Patrick). Photo Mona Luan

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Light Opera Works’ “Mame” moves from one terrific scene to the next with never a let-up of charm, clever dialogue or fun.

The musical opens in New York with a terrific Roaring 20s party that begs the question of how can it hold on to such a high note. Well, it is beautifully choreographed by Clayton Cross and  insightfully directed by Rudy Hogenmiller.

And kudos go to talented singer, dancer Nancy Hays who plays an exuberant, Mame Dennis as if born to the role. It is easy to believe Hays’ smile could “charm the husk right off the corn” as sung in the song “Mame” at Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside’s Peckerwood Plantation.

Another part of the answer comes in the form of talented 10-year-old Zachary Scott Fewkes who is Mame’s young nephew, Patrick Dennis. His voice and empathy endears him to the audience.

Then, there are hilarious scenes such as Hays trying to balance on a moon prop in a show featuring actress friend Vera Charles (Mary Robin Roth). Charles had taken pity on Mame who couldn’t pay bills when the market crashed so gave her a bit part.

However, given its antecedents as the 1955 fictional “Auntie Mame” novel by Patrick Dennis (aka Edward Everett Tanner II, nickname Pat) and the 1956 play of the same name adapted by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, and the 1958 film with Rosalind Russell, the show was destined for Tony nominations and awards in 1966 when composer/lyricist Jerry Herman turned it into a musical.

BTW, the story really is fiction and not autobiographical even though Tanner assumed his protagonist’s name. He also gave Patrick Dennis’ father his own first name of Edward. The show’s 1958 film tag line was “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Other versions use stronger words for “suckers.”

“Mame” is a Light Opera Works production playing now through Aug. 28, 2016 at Cahn, 600 Emerson St., Evanston, IL. For tickets and other information visit Light Opera Works and call (847) 920-5360.

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