MAME @ Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Last night Gator and I drove down/over to Oakbrook Terrace to catch the Saturday evening performance of “Mame” at the Drury Lane theatre. My last experience at Drury Lane was somewhat of a disaster. Five years ago we had tickets to “Little Shop of Horrors”, and the directions the Drury Lane offered on their web site were very wrong, causing us to miss the first half of the show. We were so pissed, we vowed to never go to Drury Lane again. However, offer me a production of MAME, and I’ll reconsider making that 45 minute drive – past the numerous cemeteries and funeral homes – to the western suburbs.

This time, we arrived two hours early. Upon entering the Drury Lane, I immediately felt like my eyes and ears were being raped by my surroundings. Let me see if I can explain.

The Drury Lane is really a large convention center that happens to have a theatre in it. There was, what seemed to be, a wedding reception and an auction for charity occurring at the same time in what I would call the lobby for lack of a better term. It was a clusterfuck of electric slide dancing, drunk middle aged couples and some guy warbling Frank Sinatra on a karaoke machine. Oh, and a jazz dance group entertained the auctioneers and the reception attendees at one point with their sassy, gold unitard-clad moves. It was very much the headache it sounds like. But, I’ve not yet explained the decor.

It’s like an eight year old decorated, doing what an eight year old thinks of when he/she thinks of “sophisticated”. Large arrangements of huge, fake plants, overwhelming chandeliers – both in size and number, blood-red walls, carpet and ceiling (I think?), and PINK LIGHTING — everywhere, the pink lighting. It was like I was sitting under a hot lamp while being bombarded by bad cocktails and fake fur coats. Obnoxious is a good word to describe it.

As for the show…

My history with “Mame” centers mainly around the film Auntie Mame, starring the amazing Rosalind Russell. One of my absolute favorites, the performances are basically seared in my brain. So, it’s hard to hear those classic lines without hearing them delivered by Roz, Coral Browne, Peggy Cass and company. And, a confession: I’ve never seen the film “Mame” (the movie version of the musical starring Lucille Ball) in one sitting, mostly because Ball is so absolutely horrible in the role. Of course I know and love the score, since it’s Jerry Herman and Angela Lansbury.

In other words, this production had a lot to live up to.

I’m pleased to say it was a VERY fine production of a great show, with one annoying flaw.

The production values were really “top drawer”: A classy and functional set, a full-sounding and well-directed band, terrific lighting and GREAT costumes – especially for Mame’s character.

The supporting cast was very good – particularly Marilynn Bogetich as Mrs. Burnside. She mined EVERY laugh possible out of a ten-line role. That’s the way you do a bit character part. BRAVA. Kelly Cronin was a very good Gooch, but I would have preferred a bit more kookiness.

Alene Robertson as Vera Charles. WOW. A short woman with a foghorn of a belt, Robertson delivered those classic zingers with perfect timing and side-splitting glares. Now I wish I could travel back in time and see her in her previous credits – Madam Rose in Gypsy (which she won the JEFF award for – TWICE), Sweeney Todd, Miss Hannigan, etc. I understand that the last time she played Hannigan on tour, she suffered a brain aneurysm and was in a coma for several weeks. You’d never know it – she’s back and in full force.

Barbara Robertson as Mame. I’ve seen Barbara in several things – from straight plays (“The Goat, or Who is Sylvia” at The Goodman) to musicals (as Desiree in “A Little Night Music” and as Eliziveta in “Grand Hotel”) and been very impressed. Oh, I wanted to like her so much. And 90% of the time, she was the IDEAL Mame. Her Mame was like a grown up child enjoying life to its fullest. Robertson is one of Chicago’s best actresses who also has a strong ability for physical comedy, which made her book scenes the highlight. She has a wide, expressive mouth that lends a great goofiness to the part. And her chemistry with Alene was comedic gold. The two actresses even locked lips during the final party scene in an attempt to offend the Upsons. A brilliant moment.

And here comes the flaw.

Robertson is NOT a singer. “If He Walked Into My Life,” in particular, was nail biting. Will she hit the note? Will she crack? Since she’s such a trouper, Robertson would yell up to the note, which got her there most times, but it wasn’t pretty. I believe that when you star in a musical, particularly in a role with great numbers by Jerry Herman, you should be able to sing as WELL as act. SO, this was a major pain point for me. Robertson would be smashing in “Auntie Mame” – the play.

Starting Nov 19, Kat Taylor is taking over the role of Mame. I’d suggest checking her out – she’s a well-known cabaret artist with a strong list of theatrical credits.

Overall, a great production in an obnoxious venue with a star who didn’t quite do it for me. But, I recommend it, and am glad I went.

2 thoughts on “MAME @ Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

  1. Thanks for the great review of “Mame”. My partner and I plan to see it–but maybe we’ll wait until Kat Taylor takes over the role. We’ve seen Robertson in many plays over the years and loved her, but if she can’t sing that well . . . what’s she doing in “Mame”???????????????

    I agree with you–perhaps “Auntie Mame” would be better for her than the musical version.

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