"Hollywood movie maker’s tortuous love"
by Jill Lawrie for remotegoat on 23/07/15

“Mack and Mabel” is the Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer musical which now plays until early September. It charts the legendary tempestuous romance of the Hollywood career-driven writer/director/producer Mack Sennett and his spirited young protégé Mabel Normand, based on Francine Pascal’s revision of her brother Michael Stewart’s original book. A new production of this lesser known Broadway musical sees Michael Ball welcomed back and American newcomer Rebecca LaChance making her Chichester debut. The Overture from this rapturous score was used by Torvill and Dean when they won the World Figure Skating Championships in 1982.

The story is narrated in flashbacks by the master pioneer of the silent screen Mack Sennett, who is comfortable when turning street kids into 2 reeler stars but uneasy when falling in love with his ill-fated star! Mabel Normand is the troubled heroine, craving affection and professional respect but driven into drug addiction and a tragic premature death.

Director Jonathan Church used relatively bare staging that lent itself to some imaginative use of video projection, train and ocean liner sequences as well as impressive ensemble choreography, a stirring tap number and a slap stick Keystone Cops sketch. but the rather drab costume colour palette was disappointing.

Award winning Michael Ball shone in his role as the tough uncompromising bully Mack Sennett his vocals excelling with the poignant rendition of “I Won’t Send Roses”. Surprisingly unable to cast the role of Mabel Normand in the UK the team headed over the pond to engage Rebecca LaChance, whose previous experience was in the Broadway Carole King musical “Beautiful” where she was a member of the ensemble and understudy for the title role. Despite the impressive energetic ensemble cast members this production lacked colour, sparkle and vitality save for the tremendous and exuberant toe tapping routine to “Tap Your Troubles Away” led by Anna-Jane Casey which really lifted the show, though sadly not for long.

This turbulent love story is a tribute to the grit and stamina of these trail blazing silent movie makers.


(334 words)

Jill Lawrie ~ remotegoat

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