When we think “holiday production,” our minds usually go to traditions like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (playing at Thalian Hall’s Bucky and Ruth Stein Theatre over the next two weekends), “The Nutcracker” (playing next weekend at Cape Fear Fine Arts and Humanities Center), or maybe even “White Christmas.” Thalian Association has had their fair share of performing such standards, but this year they are taking on a 50-year-old production that doesn’t always bring to mind hoards of tinsel and copious sips of cider. “Mame,” which debuted on Broadway in 1966—based on the 1955 novel, “Auntie Mame”—will take over the Thalian stage this weekend as the last show of the season.
Thalian Association artistic director David Loudermilk knew choosing a production that didn’t use the Christmas season as a major plot point would be a risk. “However, there are lots of great shows that have Christmas songs in them,” he tells. “‘Mame’ being the one that brought about the hit ‘We Need A Little Christmas.’”
The production follows the story of Mame, a well-to-do young woman who loses her money in the stock market, yet marries into wealth and is left to rear her nephew after her brother’s death. Largely a comedy, “Mame” originally debuted the title character with Angela Lansbury filling her shoes and Bea Arthur taking on the role of Mame’s “bosom buddy,” Vera Charles. Its plot centers on bonds not easily broken and love lifting the human spirit.
“What is a better story during the holidays than finding the true meaning of family, no matter how they may have been brought together?” Loudermilk asks.
The show hasn’t been produced locally since 1992, when Thalian Association last debuted it. During its run, Lance Howell helped with costuming. This time around Howell’s taking over the director’s chair. encore interviewed Loudermilk and Howell about the show amidst the 50th anniversary of the musical and 60th anniversary of the novel.
encore (e): What do these characters bring to light of the human experience that still resonates today, six decades later?
Lance Howell (LH): The relevance of “Mame” today can be found in the simple storyline. From the stock market crash of 1929 and how they weather the ensuing economic storm, mirroring our own economic situation, to discrimination of single mothers. Even though Mame might be considered someone of privilege, she has very typical human problems, and we really connect with that portion of her life.
David Loudermilk (DL): As I have sat in rehearsals, especially in the past two weeks, there have been smaller plot lines in the show that when evaluated, we realize haven’t changed very much in 50 years.
e: Though subtle, there are still some socially conscious themes running through the 50-year-old production.
DL: Economic hardships and single parenting—you can’t get more 2015 than that, can you? But those are the obvious ones. You will find that some of the things Mame discusses, stands for and believes in were actually quite taboo 50 or 60 years ago, but with the constant swing of the censorship pendulum, I don’t know that we might not be close to that mindset again.
While it is a light-hearted musical, I can’t help but think that [Jerome] Lawrence and [Robert Edwin] Lee (and [Patrick] Dennis himself when writing the book) wasn’t trying to stir up a little controversy.
e: Which scene seemingly moves you every time you see it and why?
LH: Every time Mame and older Patrick have their confrontation scene, which segues into, “If He Walked Into My Life,” you’ll hear me sniffling somewhere in the theater.
DL: I don’t think there is one particular scene for me, but the struggle and balance of the relationship Mame and Patrick have together [is moving].
e: What scene most keeps you in stitches, and is the comedy in the show “too light” compared by today’s standards?
DL: It has been a pleasure working with this cast, and I honestly find new moments that I am laughing at every night! The thing I love about this show, is that it is 100 percent family-friendly and has some great zingers that, if you aren’t paying attention, you might just miss.
I don’t think it is too light at all. I think it is just what is needed to not only get into the holiday spirit, but to also have a chance to reflect on where we have come from, and how we can continue to change. As Auntie Mame says: “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”
LH: The coming out of Agnes Gooch, during “Bosom Buddies” will have the audience rolling in the aisles. . . . We hope the audience will be singing “We Need a Little Christmas” as we break for intermission. Also, we focus on the giving aspect over the commercialization. Money versus heart!