WALTHAM - It turns out you don’t need to go to New York City to experience great musical theater, when you’ve got Reagle Music Theatre right here in Waltham.
Having recently returned from a weekend excursion to the Big Apple to see a brand-new Broadway musical, I dare say my experience watching “Mame” on Friday night was just as entertaining, if not more so.
Although I'm a fan of Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” and “La Cage aux Folles,” I'd never seen “Mame." I was completely won over by the score, story and group of actors bringing it to life.
Based on a novel and play titled “Auntie Mame,” the captivating story about an eccentric aunt and her nephew follows them from the Roaring ’20s through the Great Depression and into the 1940s. Settings range from the grandeur of artistic New York City to Mame’s attempts at performing at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, to the charms of a Southern plantation in Georgia, to an upper-class neighborhood in Connecticut, and back to New York.
Leigh Barrett, a well-known Boston actress and a winner of the 2018 Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence, carries the show wonderfully on her shoulders in the title role. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand during her 11 o’clock number “If He Walked into My Life,” a song that any guardian or parent can relate to as she questions her choices raising her nephew Patrick in her unique manner.
Patrick is played by two equally outstanding actors. Young Ben Choi-Harris, who was in the national tour of “A Christmas Story,” is perfect in a major role as the young Patrick starting at age 10. He has a charming stage presence and a megawatt smile, and even gets a chance to show off his skill at making a martini.
Will Burke, as Patrick from the ages of 19 to 29, has an incredible singing voice, which he shows off with Barrett in the haunting melody “My Best Girl.”
While the only song I was familiar with going into the show was “We Need a Little Christmas,” there are plenty of great tunes in Herman’s score.
Barrett and the hilarious Maureen Keiller as Mame’s friend, the actress Vera Charles, have a biting duet in “Bosom Buddies,” with lines like, “If I say that your sense of style's/As far off as your youth;/It's simply that/Who else but a bosom buddy/Will tell you the whole stinking truth?”
Keiller makes the most of her choice one-liners, and gets a great entrance in an early scene from underneath Mame’s bed.
Katie O’Reilly as Agnes Gooch, Patrick’s caretaker and Mame’s secretary, shows off her operatic voice as she transforms herself into a more liberated woman in “Gooch’s Song.” Meanwhile, Karen Fanale brings down the house with her Southern manners on the Peckerwood estate in Georgia as Mame’s eventual mother-in-law.
The leads are ably backed up by an impressive ensemble that pulls off several eye-popping dance numbers, starting with the flapper dance moves of the Roaring ’20s, to a tango-like number showing the seedy underside of Prohibition-era New York City, to more liberated dance moves as the show moves into the 1940s. Reagle performances are known for their big production numbers, and “Mame” doesn’t disappoint.
This show is the first of Reagle’s three productions this season, with “The Sound of Music” and “La Cage aux Folles” coming in July and August. If “Mame” is any indication, it should be a great summer for local theater.
Remaining performances at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington St., Waltham, are Thursday, June 20 at 2 p.m., Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 22 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $69, available at the box office, by calling 781-891-5600, or at reaglemusictheatre.org.
Michael Wyner can be reached at 508-626-4441 or email@example.com.