Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Broadway Birthday" - Mame turns 45 today!

The smash musical Mame turns 45 today.   Opening on Broadway on May 24, 1966, Mame was the last show to open in the 1965-1966 Broadway season.  The musical has music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.   The show is based on the 1955 fictional "autobiography" Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, which was turned into the play of the same name in 1956 by Lawrence and Lee.  The play and 1958 movie of the play both starred Rosalind Russell.  Dennis appears as a character in both the play and the musical and Dennis is actually the pseudonym for Edward Everett Tanner, III.  Tanner actually wrote a sequel, Around the World with Auntie Mame, as well as the novel Little Me, which was turned into the 1962 musical of the same name.

The musical of Auntie Mame was originally titled My Best Girl and the part of Mame was offered to Mary Martin who turned the role down.  Angela Lansbury eventually was offered the part.  Beatrice Arthur co-starred as Mame's "bosom buddy" Vera Charles with Jane Connell as her secretary Agnes Gooch and Frankie Michaels as her nephew Patrick.  Lansbury, Arthur and Michaels would all win Tony's for their performances.

Lansbury and Michaels
The plot of the musical, book and play follow the madcap adventures of Mame Dennis, a sophisticated New Yorker with a free wheeling lifestyle who encounters a little bump on the road of her eccentric, bohemian lifestyle when her brother dies and she is entrusted with the care of her 10 year old nephew Patrick.  Mame doesn't let having to take care of the young boy get in the way of her eccentric ways and introduces him to her world and her crazy friends.  After all, Mame's motto is "Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death" and she is going to show Patrick that to really live one must experience life in all of its many shapes and forms.

The show is set in New York from before the Great Depression to after World War II.  When Mame loses her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 she, Patrick and the rest of her household staff cope the only way they can, with Mame getting a series of jobs that she isn't that good at as well as celebrating Christmas in early December just to lift their spirits.  Eventually she finds a wonderful man, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy Southern gentleman who loves her and she marries him.  However, the trustees of Patrick's father's estate force Mame to send Patrick to boarding school, so she and Beauregard travel the world together on an endless honeymoon.  She and Patrick exchange many letters while she is away and he is at boarding school so they always stay in touch.  But after Mame's husband dies, she is now a wealthy widow when the grown Patrick returns home engaged to a debutante from a bigoted family.  Fortunately Mame arrives just in time to set things straight for Patrick once again, making him realize how suffocating his engagement was and how pretty a girl Mame's new secretary is.  The show ends several years later with Mame ready to take Patrick's son on a trip round the world and show him just how to live his life.

Connell, Arthur and Lansbury
The Broadway production was directed by Gene Saks and choreographed by Onna White and opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, later moving to the Broadway Theatre, running a total of 1,508 performances.   Though the show won three Tony's, Man of La Mancha took most of the Tonys that year including Best Musical and score.  Sweet Charity also lost out on most of the Tony awards to La Mancha that year.

Ginger Rogers starred in the 1969 London production and Broadway replacements for Mame were Celeste Holm, Ann Miller, Jane Morgan, and Janis Paige.  Lansbury left the Broadway production in March of 1968 and toured the US with the show playing San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Arthur and Connell would reprise their roles in the 1974 film version that starred Lucille Ball in the title role with Robert Preston as Beauregard.  Lansbury returned in a Broadway revival of the show in 1983 but it only managed to run for 5 weeks.  The Kennedy Center presented a 40th anniversary production in 2006 that starred Christine Baranski as Mame, Harriet Harris as Vera, Emily Skinner as Gooch and Max von Essen as the adult Patrick.

After the many hit recordings of Herman's "Hello Dolly!" it was only natural that many recording artists would record the title song for Mame.  Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, and Herb Alpert all recorded the song in 1966 and found themselves on the charts in both the United States and Canada with their recordings.   Eydie Gorm√© received a 1967 Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Performance for her recording of "If He Walked into My Life" which was a huge hit for her.  "We Need a Little Christmas" has become a well known holiday tune as well and I'm sure many people who hear it have no idea it was written for a musical.

My favorite songs from the score include "It's Today," "Open a New Window," "My Best Girl," "We Need a Little Christmas," "Bosom Buddies," and "If He Walked Into My Life."

Amazon link for Dennis' original book Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

Amazon link for the Original Broadway Cast recording cd of Mame (1966 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the MP3 download of the cast recording of Mame

Amazon link for the dvd of the movie Mame

Amazon link for the dvd of the movie Auntie Mame

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur perform "Bosom Buddies" at the Tony's -

Arthur and Lucille Ball sing "Bosom Buddies" from the movie of Mame -

Angela Lansbury discusses Mame- great interview-

Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass perform "Mame" -

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