Dec. 8, only one week past Thanksgiving Day, 54 Below inaugurated its new mini-series "54 Sings" with a songs-only reduction of the 1966 musical Mame. The concept: Take a favorite old musical, invite a dozen Broadway types to sing the songs (allowing major roles to be split among multiple performers) and accompany the evening with a narrator filling us in on production history and gossip without even bothering to address the plot. Everyone knows the story anyway, don't they? Everyone attending 54 Below's Mame certainly seemed to know the story.
The whole thing turned out to be as good as the proprietors of the nightclub beneath Studio 54 could have hoped. The title role was split between Dee Hoty (The Will Rogers Follies), Leslie Uggams (Hallelujah, Baby!), Pamela Myers (Company), Klea Blackhurst (at the first of the two performances), and even Lee Roy Reams getting things off to a festive start singing "It's Today" as if he was welcoming us all to La Cage aux Folles. Gooch was played by Annie Golden (Hair) and Donna Lynne Champlin (Sweeney Todd). Otherwise, the cast included Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) as Vera Charles, Lewis Grosso (Newsies) as young Patrick, and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (A Little Night Music) as the collegiate Patrick. John McDaniel served as music director and conducted a two man combo from the piano. (An unnamed girl with a bugle — or, rather a trumpet — suddenly appeared for the finale.)
Given the numerous performers playing the title role, it was the Vera of the evening who pretty much stole the show. Leavel did a splendid job with "The Man in the Moon," and "Bosom Buddies" opposite Hoty was the comic highlight of the evening. (Hoty and Leavel, from the looks of it, could easily play these roles tomorrow.) Hoty scored early on with "Open a New Window" and also gave us "Love Is Only Love," which was cut during the tryout and later resurfaced in the film version of Hello, Dolly! The song itself is inferior, and they might just have easily performed "That's How Young I Feel," the one song missing from the cabaret evening.
Champlin — not unexpectedly — gave a rousing rendition of "Gooch's Song," while Grosso impressed with his rendition of "My Best Girl." The parade of hits was topped by Leslie Uggams, who stopped the show with "If He Walked into My Life." Phil Geoffrey Bond, who directed and narrated the evening, cannily saved the title song for the end, with 16 or so previously-unused singers flooding the narrow aisles of the room and serenading the featured cast. 54 Sings will continue on two additional Sunday evenings, with Smokey Joe's Cafe (with several original cast members scheduled to participate) Feb. 9, 2014, and Side Show (with the participation of author Bill Russell) March 9.
54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and additional information are available at 54Below.com.