Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee; Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

At Melbourne Concert Hall June 2, 3 & 4, 1999

Australia produces high quality musicals and, in them, we see local stars of international standard. The intention of Melbourne-based group, The Production Company, under the patronage of Jeanne Pratt, is to stage concert versions of musicals featuring Australian talent.

Pamela Rabe in MameThe first of these projects is Mame, directed and choreographed by David Atkins and with his pal and regular collaborator, Rhonda Burchmore, in the title role. She follows in the footsteps of numerous Broadway and West End stars.

The brassy Rosalind Russell was an enormous hit in 1958 in the play, Auntie Mame, which preceded Jerry Herman’s 1966 musical adaptation. The first, and perhaps most successful leading lady in the musical role was Angela Lansbury. Does anyone remember now that the Murder She Wrote star could sing?

Burchmore is very popular in some quarters and has featured in shows as diverse as Hot Shoe Shuffle, Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Die Fledermaus . Her particular style either appeals or does not. She plays a bold, quirky and progressive New Yorker with heaps of hootsbah. The latter Burchmore may have, but she lacks any semblance of the extraordinary, eccentric or charismatic required for this role.

This is not to say that she is not entertaining. She works hard to pump out the litany of fabulously singable songs including It’s Today, Open a New Window, We Need a Little Christmas and many others which are supported by a spectacularly good chorus and cameo performances.

Accolades go to the luminous Pamela Rabe as Vera Charles, the throaty sensualist and lush, “First Lady of the American Theatre” and Mame’s gladiatorial friend. Rabe steals the show with her impeccable comic timing and delivery, warm voice and detailed characterisation.

The Australian Theatre Orchestra, conducted with zest by Andrew Greene, provides a full sound. Atkins’ direction keeps the pace cracking and fills the stage with action. The show retains all Herman’s songs as well as Lawrence and Lee’s witty, pithy dialogue. This is a script with some dream one-liners and Burchmore and Rabe make a meal of them. Their “bitchy friends” duet, Bosom Buddies, is a highlight.

Susan-ann Walker as frumpy nanny, Agnes Gooch was a delight. Alan Fletcher as Mame’s rich husband, Rod McLennan as stitched-up trustee for Mame’s orphaned nephew and Geoffrey Baird as her friend Lindsay were all commendable. The cast is strong and the evening is entertaining.

Review by Kate Herbert

It is a delight to see Pamela Rabe reminding us that she is a great comic actor. As the rarely sober drama queen Vera, she keeps stealing the show with star quality to match Burchmore’s. She’s tall enough to match Burchmore eyeball to eyeball in the ironic duet Bosom Buddies and proves she can sing and dance, too. – Helen Thomson, The Age

Photos by Newspix and Rhonda Burchmore