Musical takes note of silent-film days

`Mack and Mabel' plays at Aurora theater

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“Mack and Mabel,” a musical by Jerry Herman, with book by Michael Stewart (and some later revisions by Stewart's sister, Francine Pascal), opened Aug. 8 at Vintage Theatre under the direction of Bernie Cardell.

It tells the audience a story about silent movie director Mack Sennett and his on-again, off-again love affair with his favorite star, Mabel Normand, from 1911 to 1938.

Sennett, portrayed by experienced leading man Keegan Flaugh, is so stubborn and unwilling to move into the obvious future of filmmaking (note the song “Movies Were Movies”) that one is not entirely sympathetic with his character. He is not capable of being a caring lover when he meets Mabel, although he is certainly smitten. His song, “I Won't Send Roses” is one of the show's outstanding numbers — and there are many.
Glimpses of early Hollywood carry the production along.

Mabel Normand (a charming Rachelle Wood) is in love with Mack, but finally gives up on their relationship — for a while.

The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1974 and closed after eight weeks. Writer Stewart died and his sister was called in to revise the script somewhat for a later revival. It did extremely well in London and has played at various U.S. venues.

Director Bernie Cardell maintains Herman's score “is right up there with Herman's `Hello, Dolly' and `Mame.'” He brings many years of directing skill to this, his 17th collaboration with Vintage Theatre, and will probably have smoothed out a few rough spots with another week of onstage performances by this 19-member cast, as will music director Eric Weinstein. It's wonderful to have a live band onstage, but perhaps rehearsal time was a little short to gain the precision demanded by Herman's zippy score. (We attended on Aug. 9, just after opening.)

The show includes several entertaining dance numbers, choreographed by Jessica Hindsley — one featuring Sennett's trademark Keystone Kops and another big tap number: “Tap Your Troubles Away.” And these are enhanced by Cindy Franke's detailed period costumes.

“Mack and Mabel” doesn't have the depth of America's top musicals, but it has a great score and an engaging story. It's a treat to see a musical one hasn't seen before. Kudos to Vintage for bringing it to Denver.

If you go:

“Mack and Mabel” plays through Sept. 14 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Thursday, Sept. 11; 2:30 p.m. Sundays and Saturday, Sept. 13. Tickets: $26 ($21 advance,) 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.com.