"Funny and fabulous Hollywood comes to life with the story of pie-in-the-face, Keystone Kops and Bathing Beauties master, Mack Sennett, and his daffy heroine, Mabel Normand," according to the Goodspeed announcement. "Silent filmmaker Sennett brought glamour to the silver screen while falling in love with newcomer Mabel, who eventually became the biggest star of her time."
The production, directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, who has been attached to the property for several years, plays the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. As previously announced, Tony Award-winner Scott Waara plays Mack, Christiane Noll is Mabel and Tony-winner Donna McKechnie is their pal, Lottie.
The original 1974 Broadway production starred Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston, and fans embraced the cast album long after the show's short run ended. The libretto, deemed too dark and gloomy, took the blame for the show's failure while Herman's score produced such standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." The rousing "When Mabel Comes in the Room" has been compared to the title songs of Herman's Hello, Dolly! and Mame for a being joyous ode to an extraordinary lady.
Herman is 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. The revised show has been tested in concert situations in Los Angeles and New York, and in a London production in 1995.
Composer-lyricist Herman (Dear World, 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 was at odds with the brassy numbers, and that focus was pulled from its 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."
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 "Mack and Mabel," 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."
Opening night at Goodspeed Opera House is Oct. 27. The cast also includes Jessica Anderson as Ella, Gus Corrado as Mr. Bauman, Steve Pudenz as Kessel, Zachary Halley as Frank, Gary Lindemann as William Desmond Taylor, Robert Machray as Fatty Arbuckle, with Bobby Clark, Tim Foster, Merritt Tyler Hawkins, Shannon Kline, Julia Krohn, Stephanie Janette Meade, Missy Morrison, Danea Lee Polise, Elizabeth Polito, Amanda Rose, Karen Sieber, Dana Winkle and swings Ann George and Nathan Scherich.
The musical director for Mack & Mabel is Michael O'Flaherty, now in his 13th season as Goodspeed's resident music director.
Orchestrations are by Dan DeLange. Designers are Eduardo Sicangco (sets and costumes), Kirk Bookman (lighting). Mack & Mabel is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.
For Goodspeed Musicals information, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.
Scott Waara won the 1992 Tony Award-winner for The Most Happy Fella. Noll is known for her work in Jekyll & Hyde and Off-Broadway's Little by Little. McKechnie snagged her Tony for playing Cassie in the original A Chorus Line.