Casting for the role of actress Mabel Normand (originated by Bernadette Peters) has not been announced. Robert Preston created the role of director Sennett in the 1974 biographical musical that flopped but lived on in the hearts of fans via a cast album that preserved and promoted such tunes as "I Won't Send Roses," "Time Heals Everything," "Big Time," "Tap Your Troubles Away," "Hundreds of Girls" and "When Mabel Comes in the Room."
McKechnie is the Tony Award-winning actress who was Cassie in A Chorus Line, in addition to many other roles in New York (State Fair, Company) and around the country (Paper Mill Playhouse's Follies).
Herman's showbiz musical fable, Mack & Mabel, came a step closer to a long-talked-about commercial revival with the early 2004 announcement of a planned staging by Connecticut's Goodspeed Musicals for October 2004.
Herman will be in East Haddam to be a part of the development of the first major American production using the revised script by Francine Pascal, the sister of the late original librettist, Michael Stewart.
* Composer-lyricist Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage aux Folles) told Playbill On-Line in early 2004 that he and his team — director Arthur Allan Seidelman and choreographer Dan Siretta — are trying to focus on the Goodspeed Opera House production rather than a future on Broadway, but admitted they can't help hoping the not for-profit East Haddam staging leads to a major tour and/or to Broadway.
"That's always our hope, to be honest with you," Herman said.
Past criticism of the show was that the dark nature of its romance and the brassy numbers pulled focus from the title characters. At the intimate Goodspeed, which seats 398, things will be clearer, Herman said.
"[Mack & Mabel] has always been a great love story that has been dwarfed by all the wild production numbers that I've written," Herman admitted. "At Goodspeed, there'll be no lack of those production numbers, but because of the size of the theatre, the focus will be on Mack and Mabel, as never before. They won't be two characters lost in a sea of Keystone Kops. It's about a man who's in love with a girl yet doesn't know how to express that until a crisis happens to the girl."
Herman said he doesn't expect major revisions in the fall rehearsal process. The revised show has been tested in concert situations and in a London production in 1995.
Is it a musical docudrama, or a truth-inspired fable along the lines of Gypsy?
"It's a showbiz fable," Herman explained. "We use famous people and a great deal of truth, but the fable makes for the theatrics. If we told the honest story, Mabel Normand, after her affair with Mack Sennett, married Lew Cody Jr. and lived with him for seven years. Now, that would be no kind of ending for this musical. I would have to call it Mack, Mabel and Lew. We're inspired by the truth and these people, and we wrap theatrics around it. Gypsy is a complete fable."
The new version will include "Mabel and Mack," a song heard in the London staging, and "Hit 'Em on the Head."
This 2004 version of the script and score will be the official Mack & Mabel for future stock and amateur licensing, Herman said.
What is Francine Pascal's major contribution to the project?
"She's made a cohesive piece out of a script that had wonderful, wonderful moments in it but never really hung together," Herman said. "She's turned an interesting story into an interesting love story. You get to know them better, and you seem them happy together, which is a major difference. In the original, they started yelling at each other early in Act One and there wasn't anyplace to go."
The 2004 Goodspeed Musicals mainstage season offered Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam, directed and choreographed by James Brennan in April, followed by the current Where’s Charley?, directed by Tony Walton, to Sept. 25.
For Goodspeed Musicals information, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.