Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, TX, will present a full staging of the revised version of Jerry Herman's Mack & Mabel, the musical romance about silent-era Hollywood, the composer told Playbill On-Line.
Herman said the musical will play TUTS' new home, the sumptuous Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, where the composer-lyricist was named the first honoree of the TUTS American Musical Theatre Award. A May 18 gala celebrating Herman was the first major event in the new Hobby Center prior to the staging of the musical, Some Like It Hot.
"They honored me and did a gorgeous show of all my stuff, a revue," Herman said. "It's one of the most beautiful theatres in the country. It was designed as a musical house, which is very unusual today."
He said TUTS founding producer Frank M. Young announced the future engagement of Mack & Mabel — which has a book by the late Michael Stewart with revisions by Stewart's sister, Francine Pascal — to the gala crowd. "It's going to play there this coming season and move on from there and we'll see where it goes," Herman told Playbill On-Line. A spokesperson for TUTS confirmed June 12 that producer Young was securing the rights and exploring a berth for the show in 2003-2004 (not the 2002-2003 season), but stopped short of officially announcing the engagement.
Producer Jon Wilner is shepherding the show toward New York City. He previously told Playbill On-Line he has been discussing Mack & Mabel with TUTS. Wilner had hoped to present the revised version of the 1974 cult hit (or fascinating flop, if you prefer) on Broadway in spring 2001, and even announced an opening and rehearsal dates, but a theatre was not available, so he bumped the musical comedy to the 2001-2002 season. The target is now apparently 2003-2004. Famed clown Bill Irwin (Fool Moon) is attached as a special movement director for the Mack Sennett comedy sequences in the show about silent screen star Mabel Normand and director Mack Sennett.
Broadway could use Jerry Herman's hopeful music, including "Tap Your Troubles Away," now more than ever, and Mack & Mabel would seem to be the show to deliver it.
"It's become a cult thing," Herman told Playbill On-Line the week of June 3, saying the Houston crowd applauded the initial premature announcement by Young. "People know it, even though it was not a hit. But they know it and they're waiting for it, so that's nice."
Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) played filmmaker Mack Sennett, Jane Krakowski was actress Mabel Normand and Donna McKechnie their brassy cohort in a 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in Los Angeles.
In the planned Broadway revival, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm in Houston and on Broadway. Dan Siretta (Some Like It Hot) is the choreographer of the musical numbers.
Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of Mack & Mabel in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart.
When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.
Wilner previously said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack & Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."
Although the genesis of this planned Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however.
What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance. The score is the star of the show."
In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66 performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."
— By Kenneth Jones