Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Musical Theater Legend Resurrects His 'Favorite' Flop

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Musical Theater Legend Resurrects His 'Favorite' Flop

Article excerpt

Composer Jerry Herman sits in the third row of UCLA's Freud Playhouse, his eyes bright as stage lights.

He has fallen in love all over again.

His "Mack and Mabel," about the star-crossed affair of two early film legends, Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, is back in Los Angeles after more than a quarter century - and this musical- theater veteran is as thrilled as an ingenue.

"Of all my work," says the creator of such musical-theater staples as "Hello Dolly," "Mame," and "La Cage Aux Folles," "this is my favorite."

Audiences at the show's debut in 1974 did not agree. Acknowledged to be Herman's rare musical misstep, "Mack and Mabel" failed on Broadway that year, closing after 66 performances.

While the score gradually attracted a cult following, the show languished until a 1995 London revival brought it back into the spotlight. After substantial rewrites to the book, or story, including a more upbeat ending, the new version had its world premiere in L.A. Wednesday night.

The show will run for two weeks under the auspices of "Reprise! Broadway's Best," a group that presents semi-staged musicals after a lightning two-week rehearsal. Herman says the format is ideal. "This process," says the diminutive composer, barely visible above the theater seat, "focuses on music and lyrics."

"The original 'Mack and Mabel' was much darker," says Reprise! producing artistic director Marcia Seligson. The updated form makes the love story clearer, and the focus is back on the music, she adds.

Herman says that in the past few decades, musical theater has turned so dark that it rarely inspires him.

"The great traditions of American musical theater are supposed to leave you uplifted," says the composer, who in recent years has battled the twin challenges of a style that has fallen out of fashion and serious illness. …

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