Theatre Review: Mack and Mabel - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Review by Anne Mackie

Jerry Herman classic ‘Mack and Mabel’ is old school musical theatre at it’s very best! With a soaring and excellently orchestrated score, fabulously written story line and terrific dance numbers; this revival (direct from the Chichester Festival Theatre) is one not to miss. If you love movies and musicals (not to mention the magnificent Michael Ball) you’re guaranteed a damn good night out and this lavish production is worth every penny!

Awarded eight Tony Award nominations when it first opened on Broadway in 1974, ‘Mack and Mabel’ features an attractive array of well-known musical numbers including ‘I Won’t Send Roses’, ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’, ‘Look What Happened to Mabel’ and ‘Time Heals Everything’. Credit must go to Musical Director, Robert Scott for his superb onstage orchestra who executed Herman’s glorious score wonderfully – and all from an elevated platform above the action!

Before we continue I will get my only negative point out the way – the sound quality. Whether a production/performer fault or that of the Playhouse Theatre itself; it was often hard to distinguish dialogue and song lyrics due to a low sound level and/or lack of microphone projection. This improved marginally as the show progressed but proved an initial hurdle which was unfortunate.

Headlining the production was of course, Mr Musical Theatre himself – the incomparable Michael Ball who gave a sensational performance as Mack Sennett, the great comedy director of the silent screen. Ball proved every inch the musical phenomenon and his onstage chemistry with American actress Rebecca LaChance as the beautiful Mabel Normand was spine tinglingly provoking yet real. A partnership that thoroughly deserved the immediate standing ovation at the end of the performance.

Special mention must also go to Anna-Jane Casey as Lottie Amnes who literally tapped her troubles away, proving the ultimate triple threat as she supported terrific vocals alongside her thrilling dancing feet and engaging acting ability!

Avid film fans will be aware that this musical is based on the real-life romance between Hollywood icons Mack and his rising star Mabel Normand. Set in 1911, a time when pioneering filmmakers changed the face of the entertainment world with the silent screen antics of girls tied to railway tracks, the glamorous Bathing Beauties, the chaotic Keystone Kops and the inevitable pie in the face! The 2015 revival, directed with pace and panache by Chichester’s artistic director, Jonathan Church, expertly delivers all elements of the period by way of utilising accurate, humorous screen projection in conjunction with Stephen Mear’s dynamic choreography which appropriately evokes the era of silent film. Particular highlights included the boisterous pie fight and slick Keystone Kop dance sequence, both of which proved equally as comedic!

Ultimately, ‘Mack and Mabel’ would not look as visually stunning if not for the aesthetically pleasing and ingenious set design by Robert Jones while Video and Projection Designer Jon Driscoll (for Cinelumina) arranged a superb array of artistically beautiful scenes to accompany the action.

The 2015 touring revival of ‘Mack and Mabel’ can only be described as an astounding piece of musical comedy that is both a poignant love story and a jubilant celebration of a time long gone. With a stellar cast embracing the wonderful plot and stunning music, this is a production that is certainly worth ‘Tapping Your Troubles Away’ for. If you don’t catch it at the Edinburgh Playhouse, you’ll never really know ‘What Happened to Mabel’…

Mack and Mabel is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 21 November. For tickets and information visit the Edinburgh Playhouse website