Mack and Mabel and the Movies at CCM

Review by Spenser Smith of Mack and Mabel: CCM Musical Theatre

Mack and Mabel, now presented by CCM Musical Theatre, centers on the tumultuous relationship
between the silent film director and his muse, respectively. Many conversations happening around me during opening night circled around why this show is so rarely produced. Having known nothing about the show until last night, I wondered the same.

The score, by Hello, Dolly! scribe Jerry Herman, is the standout of the two and a half hour musical (comedy?). The orchestra of 25 and cast of 45 sound magnificent! The orchestra rises from the pit and is appropriately featured during the overture. When the curtain rises, Mack (Alex Stone), who we presume is past his prime, has arrived at the studio one last time before it“™s lost. He leads us through the story of when times weren“™t so tough and this production uses a projector screen to show footage of the actual films shot by Mack Sennett, featuring Mabel Normand. Stone is a very capable actor/singer, but there are times the comedic shtick seems very forced. He does well despite the few reasons we have to like Mack. Emily Celeste Fink (Mabel), who owned They Were You earlier this season, needs nothing more than a powerful ballad in each act to steal this show as well. She understands Mabel“™s quirky comedy in the beginning and her vulnerable decline to the end. I honestly can“™t decide which of her songs was better, that“™s how good she is. Kyra Christopher (Lottie), who we last saw as Sheila in A Chorus Line,
shines as “œthe hoofer.“ Although completely irrelevant to the story, “œTap Your Troubles Away“ is a great feature of her performance and the energetic choreography by the soon-to-retire Patti James.

I appreciate the story having weight in a musical when all-too-often the singing and dancing steals center stage (pun intended). The book at the center of Mack and Mabel struggles to find its footing. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Act 2 is significantly shorter than the first and when we come back from intermission everyone is really angry, Mabel is snorting cocaine and then a tap dance? It“™s all very confusing and sudden. Make no mistake, the issue here is the writing. The cast on stage at CCM does a fantastic job with what they are given.

Director Aubrey Berg keeps this show and its large cast moving. Scene transitions and the many costume and set changes all go off without a hitch. Major kudos to Costume Designer Reba Senske. I lost count of the total number of costumes in the opening number. Every look feels genuine and it“™s always nice as an actor to feel confident on stage in a beautiful costume. The same can be said for Set Designer Mark Halpin whose sound stage on a stage works well with the many different locations seen throughout the show. There were myriad microphone issues on opening night but I didn“™t miss a word. Great work from the cast.

If I was presented today with the same question that I heard many times last night, I now have an answer. The book, by Michael Stewart, creates two very unlikeable main characters. It“™s hard to find any redeeming qualities. The show desperately needs levity and now I understand the tap number.

Mack and Mabel runs through this weekend on the campus of the University of Cincinnati in the Corbett Auditorium.Tickets for the show can be purchased by calling 513-556-4183.

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