The musical revolves around the antics of Mame Dennis, a fun-loving, wealthy eccentric with a flair for life and a razor-sharp wit. Her life is suddenly changed when she becomes the ...
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An American actor (Arthur Tyler) impersonating an English butler is hired by a nouveau riche woman (Effie Floud) from New Mexico to refine her husband and headstrong daughter (Aggie). The ... See full summary »
The musical revolves around the antics of Mame Dennis, a fun-loving, wealthy eccentric with a flair for life and a razor-sharp wit. Her life is suddenly changed when she becomes the guardian of her late brother's only child, Patrick Dennis. Her adventures take us from the speak-easies of the roaring 20's to the depression following the great Stock Market crash. She is rescued by a wealthy Southern plantation owner, marries and is widowed suddenly, and through it all, manages to keep things under control. With some help from her dearest friend, Vera Charles, she helps keep things at 3 Beekman Place a rousing free-for-all. Written by
John Deming <email@example.com>
For those who enjoyed seeing this lively piece in the 1960s, or who liked the novel thirty years ago, Mame could be not only an entertaining sentimental journey, but an interesting view of how times have changed.
Lucille Ball is an interesting if not entirely right choice for the main role. She shows Mame Dennis's vivacious personality beautifully, accenting
naturally - the comic aspects of the character. It is a demanding role,
covering eleven years from the heyday of the twenties until the start of the forties. Among the character developments are a period of job-hunting, the Southern-belle wooing of a second husband, and the growth involved in raising a child. Her acting is ideal. However, the role asks for a singer equal to the actor, and Ball is not up to it. Her low, aging voice has some depth, especially in the elegiac "Boy with the Bugle," but not the force and clarity of a good singer. The music and lyrics give her a hand, however, with an especial highlight in "Bosom Buddies," the scathing and hilarious duet with Bea Arthur as Vera Charles, "the first lady of American theater." Other catchy tunes you might remember are the title song ("You coax the blues right out of the horn,) Mame," and the romantic, "My Best Girl."
Beware of what you may get into as you watch it though: Mame is a piece whose message has become dated. Mame Dennis was a hero to a generation of young novel readers some forty years ago, and those who saw her character on the original musical stage were struck by her energy and her view of the world. "Live!" she says. "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!" But those viewers were from a different era, when women did not work, were expected to be domestic, and her world-hopping would have been seen as radical: an early expression of women's spirit. She was inspirational in her context.
Today, though, she represents a different notion. Coming from a vantage point of extreme wealth, her admonition, "Live!" is easy for her to say. She did not create her wealth, but inherited it from her first and second husbands. On her own, Mame cannot provide for herself. When her first inheritance is wiped out in the Great Crash of 1929, Mame gets fired from job after job, relying on her former butler and nanny to pay the bills, until she fortuitously manages to marry into wealth again.
So in a modern context, we see Mame not as a freedom-loving feminist expressing herself against the prevailing social constraints, but as a woman who must depend on men to provide her with the necessary element of her freedom: money. In the depression, she could afford to fly around the world and spoil her children on her inherited money, while those who may have wished to be inspired by this spirit could not.
Her heroism was not in how she gained her money, but in what she did with it. Even so, taking a two-year honeymoon and holding thirteen parties in two weeks ("She had to cancel one," the butler explains) is hardly politically correct, today. Even her altruistic gesture at the end, when she buys a plot of land for a home for single mothers, is as much a jab at her nephew's future in-laws as pure philanthropy, and the plight of her beneficiaries is only brought home to her when her secretary becomes one of them.
It is therefore difficult today, to find Mame unambiguously admirable or inspiring. Her spirit comes from wealth; her wealth is unearned; and is used primarily to pump her own spirit. Her charm notwithstanding, the view of her lifestyle has taken a turn in an age when the wealthy can know how to live, while most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.
Mame, therefore, is worth a second glance, not only for its tuneful exuberance and wonderful comic moments, not only as a vehicle for a sentimental review of an old favorite, but as a historical piece: a view of the admirability that was.
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