Original Broadway Poster
Robert Edwin Lee
|Basis||Novel by Patrick Dennis
1969 West End
1983 Broadway revival
Mame is a musical with the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Originally titled My Best Girl, it is based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and a 1956 Broadway play, by Lawrence and Lee, that starred Rosalind Russell. Set in New York City and spanning the Great Depression and World War II, it focuses on eccentric bohemian Mame Dennis, whose famous motto is "Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." Her fabulous life with her wealthy friends is interrupted when the young son of her late brother arrives to live with her. They cope with the Depression in a series of adventures.
In 1958, a film titled Auntie Mame, based on the play, was released by Warner Brothers once again starring Rosalind Russell in the title role. Russell was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for her portrayal.
The musical opened on Broadway in 1966, starring Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur. The production became a hit and spawned a 1974 film with Lucille Ball in the title role and Arthur reprising her supporting role, as well as a London production, a Broadway revival, and a 40th anniversary revival at the Kennedy Center in 2006.
The musical was inspired by the success of the 1956 Broadway comedy and subsequent 1958 film version starring Rosalind Russell, as well as the 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis. According to Stephen Citron, in Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune, the "kudos [for Auntie Mame] made all involved immediately think of musicalizing the play." Dennis wrote several more comic novels, including a sequel, Around the World with Auntie Mame, and Little Me, which was made into a Broadway musical starring Sid Caesar. The success of that musical may have prompted Lawrence and Lee to turn Mame into a musical. Mary Martin turned down the title role, and after numerous actresses had been considered, the part went to Angela Lansbury. Jerry Herman tried to cast Judy Garland, and wrote the show with her in mind. He was talked out of it by her managers who thought she could not handle the stress of eight shows a week on Broadway.
The musical opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 24, 1966. Three years later, it transferred to The Broadway Theatre, where it remained until closing on January 3, 1970. Between the two venues, it ran a total of 1,508 performances and five previews. The musical was directed by Gene Saks, choreographed by Onna White with scenic design by William and Jean Eckart, costume design by Robert Mackintosh, lighting design by Tharon Musser and orchestrations by Philip J. Lang. Besides Lansbury as Mame, the cast included Bea Arthur as Vera Charles, Frankie Michaels as Patrick, Jane Connell as Agnes Gooch, Charles Braswell as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, and Willard Waterman (who had played Claude Upson in the 1958 film) as Dwight Babcock.
Lansbury, Arthur and Michaels all won Tony Awards, while Saks, White, the writers, Herman, and set designers William and Jean Eckart all received nominations.
When Lansbury took a two-week vacation in August 1967 Celeste Holm played the title role, prior to heading the National Tour, and "garnered ecstatic reviews" including from the New York Times. When Lansbury left the Broadway production on March 30, 1968, to take the show on a limited US tour, Janis Paige was the star chosen to be the new Broadway Mame, starting in April 1968. Paige's run and the show itself continued to be so successful that she was followed by Jane Morgan (December 1968), who was followed by Ann Miller (May 1969).
Celeste Holm, who played the role on Broadway for two weeks when Lansbury took a vacation, continued in the role in the first National Tour. When Lansbury left the Broadway production she led a second limited tour that played in San Francisco starting in April 1968 and also played Los Angeles.
The 1969 West End production starred Ginger Rogers in the title role and Margaret Courtenay as Vera. It ran for a fourteen-month engagement at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with a special performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Victor Woolf was the stage manager for this production.
Susan Hayward appeared in the Las Vegas production, while such stars as Ann Sothern, Janet Blair, Elaine Stritch, Edie Adams, Patrice Munsel, Carol Lawrence, Juliet Prowse and Sheila Smith have appeared in stock, regional or touring productions.
In 1976, a Mexican production was performed in Mexico City with Silvia Pinal in the title role and Evangelina Elizondo as Vera.
Despite the presence of Lansbury, a much-heralded Broadway revival was ultimately unsuccessful. After seven previews, it opened on July 24, 1983 at the George Gershwin Theatre, where it ran for only 41 performances.
The Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, New Jersey), produced the musical in September and October 1999, starring Christine Ebersole and Kelly Bishop as "Vera Charles". The Kennedy Center production ran from June 1, 2006 to July 2, and starred Christine Baranski as Mame, Harriet Sansom Harris as Vera, and Emily Skinner as Gooch.
A 1974 film version of the musical starred Lucille Ball, Bea Arthur as Vera and Robert Preston as Beauregard. Although it attracted an audience it was considered disappointing by the critics because Lucille Ball was considered not up to the musical demands of the title role. The Australian production of Mame imported Gaylea Byrne a little known American. She lacked the charisma although she sang If he walked into my life beautifully. The Australian production also starred Mary Hardy who stole the show as Gooch. Sheila Bradley made a wonderful Vera Charles. Mame did not live up to expectations at the box office.
The madcap life of eccentric Mame Dennis and her bohemian, intellectual arty clique is disrupted when her deceased brother's 10-year-old son Patrick is entrusted to her care. Rather than bow to convention, Mame introduces the boy to her free-wheeling lifestyle, instilling in him her favorite credo, "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death." Also figuring in the story line are Mame's personal secretary and nanny-in-law, Agnes Gooch; her "bosom buddy" Vera Charles, the baritone actress and world's greatest lush; and Dwight Babcock, the stuffy and officious executor of Patrick's father's estate. Mame loses her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and tries her hand at a number of jobs, with comically disastrous results, but perseveres with good humor and an irrepressible sense of style.
Mame eventually meets and marries Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a Southern aristocrat with a Georgia plantation called Peckerwood. The trustees of Mame's late brother (Patrick's father) force Mame to send Patrick off to boarding school (the fictional St Boniface, in Massachusetts), and Mame and Beau travel the world on an endless honeymoon that finally ends when Beau falls to his death while mountain climbing. Mame returns home a wealthy widow to discover that Patrick has become a priggish snob engaged to an equally priggish debutante, Gloria Upson, from a bigoted family. Mame brings Patrick to his senses just in time to introduce him to the woman who eventually will become his wife, Pegeen Ryan. As the story ends, Mame is preparing to take Patrick's young son Peter to India with her usual flair.
A cast recording of the Broadway production was released on the Columbia Masterworks label in 1966.  A CD version, with five bonus tracks, was released by Legacy Recordings in 1999. The bonus tracks include demo versions of "St. Bridget", "It's Today", "Open a New Window", and "Mame", as well as the song "Camouflage" (intended to be sung between Mame Dennis and Vera Charles prior to the discussion of whether Patrick could stay with Mame), all performed by Jerry Herman and Alice Borden. (Another cut song, "Love is only Love", was to be sung by Mame to Patrick before "The Fox Hunt"; it was later used in the movie version of Hello, Dolly!.)
In 1966, Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, and Herb Alpert all charted in the United States and Canada with their cover records of the musical's title song. Eydie Gormé had a huge success with her recording of "If He Walked into My Life", for which she received a 1967 Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Performance. "We Need a Little Christmas" is a well known holiday tune and can be heard in several Disney Christmas parades.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1966||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Composer and Lyricist||Jerry Herman||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Angela Lansbury||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Frankie Michaels||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Beatrice Arthur||Won|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Gene Saks||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Onna White||Nominated|
|Best Scenic Design||William and Jean Eckart||Nominated|
|Theatre World Award||Jerry Lanning||Won|
- "Sons of bitches" was changed to "suckers" in the film version. Weaver, David E. "Mame’s Boys: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee", Ohioana Quarterly, Fall 2006, Ohioana Library Association, accessed September 5, 2012.
- Citron, Stephen. "Chapter 'Mame'", Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune, Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN 0300133243, p. 124.
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