It’s a bold move to revive a musical not seen on these shores for 50 years. But Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre has carved out a reputation for rejuvenating lesser-seen or less well-loved works, and it repeats the trick to largely successful effect with this enjoyably freewheeling production.
Like its free-spirited central character, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee’s book barrels along riotously but inconsequentially from one misadventure to another. If it wasn’t for its emotional through-line, which sees New York socialite Mame entrusted with the guardianship of her 10-year-old nephew Patrick, it would evaporate off the stage entirely.
Director Nick Winston’s production embraces the effervescent chaos of Mame’s life totally, marshalling a seemingly West End-sized cast on Philip Witcomb’s chunky, wooden-panelled, art deco-inspired set. And while Winston’s choreography eventually settles into something more conventional, the early scenes of nocturnal revelry fizz with infectious bonhomie, boosted by the immediacy of having an onstage seven-piece band delivering Jerry Herman’s jaunty, ragtime-infused tunes, robustly orchestrated by Jason Carr.
Among a hard-working cast, Harriet Thorpe fits the role of Mame’s acid-tongued BFF Vera like a glove, though both her and Tim Flavin as Mame’s smooth-tongued suitor feel under-utilised. Jessie May, meanwhile, seizes every comic opportunity as repressed nanny Agnes.
But this is Auntie Mame’s show, and Tracie Bennett rises to the challenge spectacularly. She imbues the character with a winningly ditzy charm, belting out her numbers with Ethel Merman-like vigour, finding genuine emotion in the schmaltzier moments and combining to touching effect with Harry Cross and Chase Brown as the younger and older Patrick.