Jeff McCarthy and Kelli Rabke star as Mack and Mabel in Massachusetts' Barrington Stage Company's new production of Jerry Herman's 1974 musical, beginning performances June 22.
McCarthy was recently seen in the Vineyard Theatre Company's Dream True, while Rabke appeared in the Paper Mill Playhouse's staging of Children of Eden.
Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame) has been involved in the new staging, which runs June 22-July 18 and features a revised book by playwright Francine Pascal, sister of original librettist Michael Stewart. Barrington Stage Company artistic director Julianne Boyd (A...My Name is Alice) directs, and Hope Clarke (Jelly's Last Jam) choreographs.
Herman will provide no new music, though there will be a reprise of the number "Wherever He Ain't." Ken Foy designed the sets and Jeff Fender the costumes.
Though generally considered to contain one of Herman's strongest scores, Mack and Mabel had only a short run when it opens on Broadway in 1974. The cast include Robert Preston as film innovator and director Mack Sennett and Bernadette Peters as silent screen star Mabel Normand. The musical followed the tempestuous love affair between the two, using the antics of the roaring twenties and the burgeoning film industry as a backdrop. Some critics, however, while praising the music, considered the book lacking and the story too dark. (A revised, award-winning London mounting apparently fixed many of the libretto's weaknesses.) In Stewart's book, Mabel, after breaking off with Sennett, descends into a world of alcohol and drugs and is later implicated (as she was in real life) in the unsolved murder of her lover, director William Desmond Taylor. She later dies, and Mack and she never end to together, robbing the show of a happy ending.
"What I'm trying to do is to get this book so it supports that fabulous score, " Boyd told Playbill On-Line. "The biggest change is the love story is clearer between Mack and Mabel. It's clear that he is really in love with Mabel. There is a new scene that shows he's really in love." She added that the ending is a happier one now, though she would not clarify how it was happier, beyond saying the musical now ends in 1929, the year before Normand's death.
"The story is more focused now," Boyd continued. "The role of Mabel's sidekick, Lottie, will appear more prominently, as well as Frank, the screenwriter. He's going to sing `When Mabel Walks Into the Room,' which was previously sung by a night watchman. Now it make more sense. He's there waiting for her. It's clearer that he has a crush on her."
Boyd also added that, in her revival, the audience will discover the character of Frank was based on legendary director Frank Capra.
Boyd said that if all went, the production could travel beyond the Barrington.
Tickets for Mack and Mabel went on sale April 15. For information, call (413) 528-8888.
-- By Robert Simonson