Big Time: Mack & Mabel Benefit Concert Stars Lane, McKechnie, Winokur, Sills March 31

News   Big Time: Mack & Mabel Benefit Concert Stars Lane, McKechnie, Winokur, Sills March 31 Mack & Mabel, the Jerry Herman musical about silent-screen artists Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, gets a splashy, starry concert March 31 in Manhattan to benefit Gay Men's Health Crisis.

The special 8 PM concert of the 1974 score — but not the Michael Stewart libretto or its recent revisions — is directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and overseen by Herman, prefiguring a still-in-development full stage version being put together by producer Jon Wilner. Seidelman is also directing that future staging, which has a revised book by Francine Pascal, sister of the late librettist Stewart.

As of March 28, the concert was nearly sold out. All that was left at the box office was a limited number of seats in the $75 range.

For now, a variety of Broadway men and women — from Douglas Sills to Karen Ziemba to Harvey Fierstein to Donna McKechnie — will play Macks and Mabels and the supporting showfolk on their world in this special concert of songs at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall.

Seidelman told Playbill On-Line that in addition to supporting an important cause, the concert is a calling card of sorts to remind New York of the durable score, which is beloved by show fans. Despite the short original Broadway run, an original cast album (with Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston) spread the music and lyrics around the country.

Choreography is by Dan Siretta and musical direction is by Donald Pippin. Designers are Ken Billington (lighting), Ken Foy (scenic consultant), Peter Fitzgerald (sound). Jim Semmelman is production stage manager, with men's costumes by Ron Chereskin. The concert company also includes Bruce Adler, Harvey Fierstein, Hunter Foster, Sutton Foster, Jason Graae, Debbie Gravitte, Sam Harris, Jerry Herman, Jerry Orbach, Hugh Panaro, Ron Perkov, Leslie Uggams, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Uptown Express of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and the Radio City Rockettes (imagine them performing "Hundreds of Girls").

Praised for its score but panned for its original libretto, Mack & Mabel boasts such modern show-tune classics as "Tap Your Troubles Away," "I Won't Send Roses" and "Time Heals Everything." This is billed as the first New York performance of Mack & Mabel since its premiere in 1974.

"There is no dialogue in this one," Herman said of the GMHC concert. "It's a concert. It's the one that we did in London about six years ago [not to be confused with the full staging in London] — it uses a different star for each song. There are many different Macks and many different Mabels."

Of the plan for a full production on Broadway, Herman said: "We're looking to do a production of Mack and Mabel in another city, like the old tryout days. We would like to do one good theatre city and have the ability to cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' [before Broadway]."

Seidelman previously staged a production of the show for the Reprise series in L.A. That version had a revised book by Pascal that was further revised after the staging. The obstacle, Seidelman told Playbill On-Line, is the reputation of the old book.

"When we did the show in L.A. we had the opportunity, with Francine, of working on 40 or 50 percent of the book," Seidelman told Playbill On-Line. "Subsequent to that production, which was enormously successful, Francine and Jerry and I went back to work, completely revised the book, which is damn good — if only people would look at the book with fresh eyes."

What has been addressed in the new libretto rewrite for the planned future staging?

Seidelman said the ending "is more upbeat and positive. 'I Promise You a Happy Ending' has very real and specific meaning. The whole approach to the relationship is much more honest. And also the casting for the show, with Doug Sills and Jane Krakowski in L.A., had less disparate ages than between [original stars] Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters; it cast a different light on the show."

At core, the story is universal, Seidelman said. It's about a man with two passions that aren't easily reconciled — passion for work and passion for a woman. The complications come because she is part of his work, with her own mind, heart and career goals.

"He comes to understand her need," Seidelman said. "He created her and at a certain point, she didn't want to be his creation."

There have been some slight changes in the score, which fans of the original cast album will note. A song called "Mabel & Mack" has been added, and "Everytime a Cop Falls Down" has been trimmed to serve as verse material for a song called "Hit 'Em on the Head."

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Based on the life of Hollywood producer Mack Sennett and silent screen star Mabel Normand, Mack & Mabel features a score by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. The musical opened at Broadway's Majestic Theatre on Oct. 6, 1974, where it played 66 performances before closing Nov. 30. The original cast included Robert Preston as Mack and Bernadette Peters as Mabel. (Peters, incidentally, will begin previews in her latest outing — the Sam Mendes-directed revival of Gypsy — the same night as the concert.)

Though short-lived, Mack & Mabel received eight 1975 Tony nominations, including those for Best Musical, Best Actor (Preston), Best Actress (Peters), Best Director (Gower Champion), Best Book of a Musical (Stewart), Best Scenic Designer (Robert Wagner), Best Costume Designer (Patricia Zipprodt) and Best Choreographer (Champion).

For ticket information, call (212) 367-1472. Avery Fisher Hall is at 65th Street and Broadway.

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GMHC is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to reduce the spread of HIV disease and help those infected with the virus. Learn more about the organization by visiting www.gmhc.org.