ON THE WAY TO MAME
As I am writing this, I’m on the run – -getting ready to meet 50 members of the Ushers Theatre-going Social Group at The Kennedy Center
to finally see Mame tonight at 7:30 PM. Before the show begins, I have to join members for dinner at the overpriced Kennedy Center Cafeteria, where I will lay down a lot of dough ($10.00 for a pizza the size of a half dollar), but I’ll be smiling because I need to catch up on the group and do the Jewish Mother thing — see how they are doing, if they are eating properly, if they have met the loves of their lives, and if they have invested well since I last saw them. So, bring on the pizza with mushrooms and shake on the grated parmesan!
I can’t wait to hear a 29 piece orchestra play that toe-tapping, fingers-snapping overture. I’ll have to control myself by not humming along too loudly.
WILL MR. MARKS RE-REVIEW TONIGHT?
Will Peter Marks be there to “re-review” Christine Baranski’s performance? Will this critic of doom admit that he “mamed’ her in his first review, but now realizes he made a mistake? Don’t count on it. Is Jesus coming back tonight? I bet he now reports, “Ms. Baranski has now grown into the role and has “opened new windows” since I saw the show on press night…” (I give you permission to steal this, Peter). Hey, I know some other shows that would love if he’d come and re-review them.
AT MAME: THE BEAMING DIRECTOR AND WHY HE DESERVES TO GLOW
Eric Schaeffer, DC’s own director-on- the- run, was sitting in Row L, Seat 101. (Most of us were in the first three rows, dead center … thank you, Anna Siminski, for those wonderful seats.) I rushed over to him to say “hello” and to let him know “we” were here to cheer him on. The man was beaming, and he had good reason to glow. There was thunder all night long, beginning with the first loud horn blast of the overture (I had chills up and down my spine and wanted to sit and conduct that overture — but my friend, Doug, warned me not to take up the baton) to the final curtain call applause. Even the eye- popping costumes and sets received applause from the enthusiastic theatre goers who were treated to 2 ½ hours of pure joy.
HARRISON CHAD: THE KID’S A MENSCH
Before the show began, I rushed to the stage door to drop off a note to Harrison Chad, who plays young Patrick, to tell him that his many fans who saw him in Caroline, or Change were there to cheer him on, and would love to see him after the show at the backstage door. (Harrison played Noah in both the Public Theatre and Broadway productions. Incidentally, he saw the Studio Theatre production of Caroline and loved it.)
After the show ended, I ran up to Eric Schaeffer, shook his hand and said, “Congrats on a job well done.” Then I ran to the backstage door to see Harrison Chad. He came out with his mom, thanked me for coming and I pulled out my ever-handy camera and took his picture. The kid had grown at least six inches since I had seen him last, a week before Carolne, or Change closed on Broadway in 2004. He apologized for having to leave quickly and thanked me for being there and bringing The Ushers to the show. Today, I received this email from Harrison:
“It was so nice to see you again. I am sorry I had to run out so quickly, but with it raining I was able to get a ride back to my apartment! It is always fun to see some old familiar faces at the theater! I remember how much you enjoyed Caroline! Take care!
People ask me why I run a social group and deal with all the problems that come with managing a large group. Trust me, after running The Ushers for 15 years, there are still times when I pull clumps of hair out. There are a lot of headaches that come with trying to organize a show, carpools, dinner, a post-performance discussion and/or dessert with the cast. But, when a young actor, after a long day — two performances on Sunday — takes the time to write me an email and apologizes to me that he couldn’t spend more time with me (after he has brought me such joy in the theatre), well, that’s why I do what I do. Theatre people are the most appreciative artists in the world, and so many of my theatre friends have told me that seeing familiar faces at the stage door after the show makes their work more meaningful. I am always there at that stage door to congratulate the cast when the show is a hit and to encourage them when a show is not doing well.
A FELLOW BUFFALONIAN, HILARIOUS HARRIET, AND A FORMER SIDE SHOW TWIN SCHMOOZE WITH US
You know when someone is a fellow Buffalonian when they stand out in the rain for almost thirty minutes after a tough day at the theatre and sign autographs and schmooze with you about the good ole’ days growing up in the city of buffalo wings and sports teams that can never win the big game. We have learned to have a sense of humor when times are tough.
But there she was — Christine Baranski, after singing and dancing and acting her heart out, schmoozing with me and her other fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. She told us how she feels more comfortable in the role now (the critics were not so kind to her, saying she hadn’t seized the role of Mame yet and made it her own). Poppycock! (I love that word.) Tonight, she seized and conquered. Her performance was endearing and powerful and loving. The audience went crazy when she took her final bow. I loved her in the role, and I know NYC theatre-goers will welcome her and the production when it arrives in the Big Apple. (As of this printing, final transfer plans have not been announced, but this confident theatre goer believes the show will move to the Big Apple and will be a big hit).
I bumped into Harriet Harris as I entered the Terrace Cafeteria around 5:30 PM and introduced myself and wished her well with tonight’s performance. I told her how I loved her in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and congratulated her on her Tony win for playing the devilish Mrs. Meers. Her performance of Vera in this production of Mame is brilliant. Few actors today have her comic timing, and when she looks at you with those blazing eyes, you just fall over and you can’t stop laughing. If it gets to Broadway, she could easily win another Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. At the stage door, Ms. Harris signed our programs twice, once with a ball point pen, and then with the sharpie we thought we had lost but then found.
By 1993, many of my friends died of AIDS yet one of my friends wanted to drag me to NYC to see a new play by Paul Rudnick called Jeffrey. The last thing I wanted to see was another depressing AIDS play. The show starred a very funny actress whom I had never seen before, Harriet Harris. Her performance as Ann Marwood Bartle, Debra Moorhouse and Mrs. Marcangelo had me rolling in the aisles. I said to my friend, Bob, that this woman would someday win a Tony. And she did.
Thirteen years later, I related to Harriet Harris how much Jeffrey meant to me at that difficult time and how it set me back on the right track-to embrace life again and to move on. Here, finally, was an AIDS themed play that did not focus on loss and death, but focused on life and the absurdity and joy of those who survive the plague. Harriet told me how she and her fellow cast members underestimated the impact the play would have on audiences and how proud she was of the show. I was proud to have been one of the lucky ones in the audience on opening night at the Minetta Lane Theatre on March 11, 1993, after it transferred from the WPA Theatre.
Emily Skinner almost escaped us, until I loudly said, “Emily, we need your autograph, please.” I have always been an Emily Skinner fan from her joint Tony-nominated performance (with Alice Ripley) as the left side Siamese twin in Side Show, and her wonderful performances in
The Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration productions of Merrily We Roll Along and Company. Her two duets recordings with Side Show sidekick Alice Ripley are CD’s I play over and over. Emily was so happy to see us, because we are regulars at her shows and always visit at the stage door. She sang the role of Agnes Gooch better than anyone I have ever heard perform the role.
TWO DANCERS ON THE SHUTTLE-HOPING FOR THE BIG APPLE AND LIFE AFTER THE EISENHOWER THEATRE
After bidding the cast a final adieu, my friend, Bill, and I took the little Red Kennedy Center Shuttle at 11:30 PM to the Foggy Bottom Metro.
On the bus were three dancers form the show. They were exhausted and we told them how much we enjoyed the show and their work in the show. They were extremely grateful and they thanked us for our compliments. I asked them about the possible transfer to NYC, and their faces changed to expressions of cautious optimism and then fear. They spoke of the fear that the show would end in DC and then the need to audition for a new show and the possibility of being out of work again. Being the eternal optimist, I told them that the show would be a hit in NYC and they needed to think positive thoughts until they had the official word that the show was indeed moving to the Big Apple.
I’m praying as I am writing this that their prayers will be answered this week.
IT’S POURING LIKE HELL AND FARRAGUT NORTH IS CLOSED. HOW DO I GET HOME TO THE WHITE FLINT METRO?
It’s raining cats and dogs-I almost stepped in a “poodle.” OK, it’s a bad joke, but it was raining like hell when I finally arrived at the Foggy Bottom Metro and I was told that the trains were ending at Metro Center, and that the Farragut North Metro Stop was flooded and closed.
The Orange train arrived after 15 minutes and I finally arrived at Metro Center twenty minutes later after many delays. At Metro Center, I ran up to the Shady Grove train and waited for a train to take me home.
Ten minutes later, a Metro worker screaming at the top of her lungs — a mini Idi Amin in drag — barked at the ten of us who were waiting for the Shady Grove train to go on the other side of the track to catch the Shady Grove train there on the Glenmont track. (Are you following all of this?) When we arrived on the Glenmont track, we were told by a softer speaking Metro worker that we now had walk to the 11th street exit and take a shuttle bus to Dupont Circle, where we could catch the Red Line to Shady Grove. The shuttle bus left 15 minutes later and we arrived at the Dupont Circle Metro. I ran down the Dupont Circle escalator (of course it wasn’t running) and the gate was closed.
I thought to myself, “What would Mame do?”
Instead of singing “Open a New Window,” or in this case “Open a New Gate,” I took offense (get it- a fence?) and demanded they open up the station and get us a train to Shady Grove. Amazingly, the manager opened the gate and arranged for a train to take the ten of us home.
Mame would have been proud of me. “I lived! I lived!”
It took another hour to get home and I arrived at the White Flint Metro at 1:45 AM. I walked into my condo, found my Mame CD (the newly improved one with the Jerry Herman bonus tracks), and proceeded to conduct the overture — twice. Take that, Doug! Take that, Doug!
Thanks Christine, Harriet, Emily, and my buddy, Harrison, for a memorable evening. Not even the rain could mame the wonderful time I had in the theatre tonight. Ahhh, the joys of a great musical!
It was reported this afternoon (June 27th) that Mame will not be transferring to Broadway. This author is shocked and saddened that this fine production won’t be enjoyed by NYC theatre fans. At the same time I am grateful that The Ushers and myself were allowed to experience this breathtaking production on Sunday. June 25th, when this article was written. Best of luck to the cast, and a special hug to Harrison Chad. We’ll see you on the stage again soon kiddo! As Mame says, “A new window will open soon for you.” Joel Markowitz
27 Responses to “MEMORIES OF A GRAND NIGHT AT MAME”
1. Will Smith Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 6:35 am
As always, great reading. This one is more impressionistic than the earlier ones, which is always fun. And I wouldn’t get too terribly depressed about this production not heading to B-way. Washington DC deserves some exclusive great moments. What would be cool is if this were broadcast on PBS. Anyway, keep em coming!
2. Barbara Bear Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 7:05 am
Great article Joel! I absolutely loved Mame….the costumes, sets, dancing, singing, everything…I think Will’s idea of putting this production on PBS is great. What about taking it on the road…then lots of people would have the opportunity and thrill of seeing this great show….
3. Carolyn Griffin Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 8:50 am
Joel, You have truly found your calling—sharing your joy and love for the theatre with all the readers and theatre-goers who are becoming addicted to your witty, insightful passsionate observations. Thanks to Ronnie and Lorraine for giving you this opportunity. Carolyn
4. Lani McKenna Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 8:56 am
Joel, Thanks for this wonderful bit of “diary”. It helps those of us who missed the show, have a moment ot “Musical Heaven” of our own. Lani
5. John Buonagurio Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 9:42 am
Joel, I enjoyed the show Sunday and despite fearing my car would be floating along Constitution Ave. on my way home it was still worth it… Your views on the show are right on and the actors were terrific. Now I’ve always loved Christine Baranski and thought her performance was excellent. I wonder however if NY thought that she didn’t have the physical presence of what people expect Mame to look like…… I’m thinking of the movie version with Rosalind Russell. John
6. Jay Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 10:38 am
Great article Joel. I agree with John (and I too am a huge fan of her acting) that Christine Baranski’s voice and presence aren’t up to the role. I think if she and Harriet Harris traded roles the show would have been much stronger. Desite that, the show has so much going for it (great direction, acting/singing, sets) that it is bound to be enjoyable. Although most of the costuming was great, putting Christine in those beige outfits was a huge mistake making her appeared washed out and I was sitting in the front row. But I think every B’way review would start by saying Ms. Baranski isn’t right for the role and that has to be in any producers mind.
7. Janice Crawford Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 11:17 am
Joel, “Auntie Mame” starring Rosalind Russell is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen it so many times I can recite the dialogue. I was totally enthusiastic about seeing Christine Baranski in the title role because I’m a fan of Ms. Baranski’s work and couldn’t imagine that anyone I could think of would do justice to the role. The Kennedy Center’s production was lavish, the costumes, the sets, the choreography, the music, and the acting were exactly what I would expect a KENCEN or B-way production to be: top drawer. However, I have to agree with others that Harriet Harris has the chops to be a more perfect Auntie Mame. Thanks for the front-row seats!
8. Judy Miller Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 11:52 am
I had a wonderful time at this show – I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve seen other shows that were better reviewed, but none that gave me such pleasure. Maybe it was the million-dollar smile of Harrison Chad, combined with the music, costumes, and sets, plus the wonderful performances. Joel, I really enjoyed your article and the pictures. I left before the opportunity to meet the cast, because of the weather. The drive home was touch and go – at one point, after I got off a stalled 395 and was wending my way through back streets, we came upon a young man standing in the street in his shorts, waving his hands to warn us that that road ahead was flooded. But all ended well. Too bad about the Broadway decision. Maybe Las Vegas would be a good home for this show.
9. Steve Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 8:55 pm
Joel: Your description of the show really makes me sorry that I missed it. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your passion, intelligence, and sense of humor are unparalleled.
10. Jay Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 10:16 pm
I know she’s been a fixture on B’way over the last 10 years, but what about Bernadette Peters as MAME? What do you think?
11. Joel Says:
June 28th, 2006 at 11:13 pm
Bernadette had many vocal problems when she was doing the revival of Gypsy. Here’s some belters who could do a great job as Mame-don’t faint-Cher, Faith Prince, Karen Ziemba and Christine Peddi of Forbidden Broadway fame. My friend Richard Skipper, who I am seeing Friday night at Helen’s in NYC as Carol Channing, (www.richardskipper.com) would make a great Mame.
12. Jay Says:
June 29th, 2006 at 10:16 am
Cher, maybe the others don’t have enough “name” appeal to carry it. Now it’s your turn not to faint, what about Kathy Lee Gifford?
13. Joel Says:
June 29th, 2006 at 11:39 am
Never. You would see over-acting at a level never before seen on the stage, She always over-emotes.
14. Scotty Says:
June 29th, 2006 at 2:50 pm
Joel, I read your article with much interest. Having seen this Mame five times, Ms. Baranski has really grown into the role, and as far as I’m concerned is Mame. I’m sad it’s not transferring to New York, but at least we saw it! Best, Scotty
15. Brenda Buchbinder Says:
June 29th, 2006 at 4:47 pm
Well, it was a harrowing experience trying to get home Sunday night and do feel we missed something by not staying around to meet the cast. Your description, at least, filled that void. However, I agree with the critics regarding Christine Baranski’s Mame. She just didn’t do it for me. The production itself was worth the cost of admission and brighter costumes would not have enhanced her performance. She has been so terrific in the performances I’ve see her in, this was truly a disappointment. It is probably best that this is not going to Broadway; it would ruin her reputation as a fine actress. I really can’t define what it was about her performance I couldn’t tolerate. Perhaps she appeared to be overacting or not relating to the other performers. I just don’t know.
16. Janet Says:
June 30th, 2006 at 6:46 am
This type of musical is not my cup of tea, but I thought it was as well done as it could be. My seat was great. Thanks,Joel! The highlight of the performance wa seeing the young boy’s expression whenever he was next to Miss Baranski. He seemed to truly adore her. The actress who played Beauregard’s mother was hilarious. I’d love to see her in more plays. Regarding the costumes, most of them were gorgeous; however, I definitely agree with the person who said the beige pantsuit was a mistake — not just the fact that it was beige either. (Some of the foxhunting costumes left a lot to be desired… but, who cares There was one thing in the play itself that really bugged me. The next time we see Mame after her husband, Beau, died in an accicent, she was gleefully happy. For me, it made her look like a heartless [fill in the blank]. Beau had been good to her. Couldn’t the show have included one short moment of her being devestated, but going on with her life, THEN happy to be back home?
17. cheryl Says:
June 30th, 2006 at 9:54 am
Well let’s see- I’ll start with Joel’s comment about the Kennedy Center’s Cafeteria. Personally I’m very grateful that the Kennedy Center has this Cafeteria. I find that its always nice to come upstairs before an evening show- grab dinner and catch up with friends. (For those in the Ushers group I’m usually the one whose organizing these impromptu gatherings in the Kennedy Center Cafeteria.) The cafeteria is great…we don’t all have to get there at the same time – so it affords us a lot of flexibility. The food can be a bit pricey … but it depends on what selections you make. I usually go for one of the hot “bowl” dishes (there are usually 3 choices and they usually offer different types of stews over rice or noodles.) which run just under $10. These bowls are very tasty and the servings are very generous. If you arrive at the Kennedy Center between 5pm and 6pm all of the items on the snack carts on the main level are half price. I had a sandwich and a bottle of water there on Wed evening and it costs $5. You can always purchase dinner at one of the snack carts and bring it upstairs to the cafeteria. What a great deal! “Mame” – I loved it! I thoroughly enjoyed Christine Baranski’s performance even though she was obviously not totally up to the dancing and singing demands of the show. She compensated with her wonderful acting skills and large personality. Harriet Harris was wonderful and I, like Jay, was wondering if the show might not have been a bit stronger if Baranski and Harris had traded roles. It was also great to see Harrison Chad again…having seen him on Broadway in “Caroline or Change”- what a delight he was in this show!
18. Maggie Says:
June 30th, 2006 at 1:02 pm
Do you have more pics of Harriet Harris? I’ll run a website about her in July or August and look for every picture I can find! Please email.
19. Joel Says:
July 2nd, 2006 at 10:09 am
The cafeteria comment was a joke. I do think that charging $9.99 per b for their salad bar is a little too much. Thanks for the info on the 1/2 price sandwiches. I’ll make sure when I return to The KC that I arrive in time for the sandwich deal. And thank you for all your time and efforts to organize these trips to KC. I really appreciate all your efforts. Joel
20. Steve On Broadway (SOB) Says:
July 2nd, 2006 at 2:22 pm
Joel, Hopefully you were as happily surprised as I was that Peter Marks not only re-reviewed Mame, but he opened a new window in his thinking! Wonders will never cease. Let’s hope that some Broadway producer will show some class by transferring this show to the Great White Way where it belongs. Steve On Broadway (SOB)
21. Barbara Bear Says:
July 3rd, 2006 at 7:23 am
Joel, I’m glad Peter Marks re-reviewed Mame – I’m just not sure I know why he did this re-review…The show was closing and it was too late to help the potential move to NYC or anywhere else. Maybe he just felt terribly guility. I wonder how many other plays he has re-reviewed after giving an unfavorable review.
22. Joel Says:
July 3rd, 2006 at 7:55 am
It’s too little too late. His initial review hurt Mame’s chances of transferring to NYC. I was in NYC this weekend and talked to 3 NYC producers who told me that they considered investing in a Broadway run, but Marks’ and Ben Brantley’s (NY TIMES)reviews had a major influence in investing in the show. This re-review is like pouring salt in an open wound-why write it? I don’t have that answer. Only Peter Marks can tell you. I don’t think “guilt” was on his mind. Personally, I think he should have never written it. It’s a shame that he and Brantley have so much power. The audience went crazy when I saw the show with you Barbara. I think it would have done very well on Broadway, but now we’ll never khow. They (Eric, etc.) should have waited a week until all the tech problems were solved before they allowed critics to review the show. It was a stupid move and it also hurt the show’s chances of tranferring.
23. Paul Twohig Says:
July 3rd, 2006 at 9:38 am
To be fair, I thought that in his initial review Marks said that Barnski’s performance might improve over the course of the run. I assume that he checked that prediction and was professional enough to do an update. As I said before, Marks is a type of reviewer that supposedly reviews aginst some high standards of the Art. And that is just the way it will be. He does enjoy a number of light works that he thinks are done well.
24. Jay Says:
July 3rd, 2006 at 9:36 pm
While I agree that Mr. Marks is not considering the casual theatre goer or audience reaction in his review; I don’t think he should be. I also think he becomes fixated on minor things that shouldn’t be. If the actress playing Mame in MAME is not up to the part; that is a problem with any production let alone one that has it’s eye on B’way. The fact that he finds the staircase rolling in on each scene that depicts Mame’s mansion bothersome and he gives that equal weight in his review is what I find unuseful and misleading. Audience reaction should not impact on a review other than as observation that would be useful for the casual theatre goer to know.
25. Alan Says:
July 4th, 2006 at 7:03 pm
40 years ago, I understood that producers always knew when a review was being written & which edition of the paper would carry it; and that they got a copy from the newsroom as soon as the type was set. It should be even easier in the era of word-processing. Maybe producers here don’t maintain such a relationship with Mr. Marks.
26. ronnie Says:
July 4th, 2006 at 7:31 pm
Now days producers are lucky to know who is coming (grin)..
27. Diane C. Says:
July 11th, 2006 at 2:40 pm
This is a bit outdated now but… my mother and I enjoyed MAME at KenCen despite nosebleed seats. Having missed Ms. Baranski in Sweeney Todd (thinking foolishly I’d seen that enough times), I wasn’t going to miss this. I’d also seen the interview with CB earlier at KenCen and find her to be an intelligent, warm, generous, gutsy actress who takes risk (dancing… which she did once upon a time). The sound system seemed a bit off and we couldn’t decipher some of the words tho the music was top-knotch and the set incredible — and yes, Lou A. is correct re absence of minorities in this show, esp when they could have been represented in one scene that displays how much of the world there is to learn about. I’ve taken swing dancing and Charleston — never saw those hand movements in this dance that Karen S referred to in a Footlights msg– but perhaps the choreographer exaggerated scenes from an old movie — or some “poetic” (?) license. Bottom line: I do find Christine Baranksi intriguing; when she was on stage, she totally captured my attention. As she said in her interview, she grew into the role and got bolder. I never saw this production “live” before but think this was a fine one. Worthy of Bway? I dunno. As a former NY, I admit to some snobbery in that dept but I’ll try to catch this wonderful actress in any future play.
As far as cafeteria costs at KenCen, I wish there were other options. Cuppa Cuppa doesn’t offer enough before a show, it appears. Can’t generally take adv of the half-price KenCen fare but nice to know about it for others. Two of us once split the hot meal (chicken?) and that worked. Best bet I think is the veggi wrap from the lobby carts. With all the construction going on, maybe they’ll install less costly vending machines with semi-healthy fare. Dream on?
Thanks for this forum, Joel.