It’s fair to say it came close, but didn’t quite reach the heights of (other Jonathan) Kent’s absolute show-stopping phenomena.
Mack and Mabel has all of the jazz hands, brassy overtures and dancing chorus but perhaps what’s missing is the heart. Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVED this production, sang all of the songs on the way home and shimmied out of the theatre but what it lacked is that gut-wrenching emotion that packs a real punch at the finale, leaving you spellbound. It’s partly my fault, arriving with preconceived expectations – Frankly Chichester, the quality is consistently and extraordinarily high, I can’t help but arrive with starry eyed anticipation. You are vastly becoming one of my favourite theatres.
I had no doubt over the musical talents of Mr Showbiz himself, Michael Ball. He plays silent movie maker Mack Sennett full of charisma and charm, that not only woos Mabel, but the audience too. Mack reflects on a diminishing career making two-reeler, comic capers (‘Movies Were Movies’) that are losing their allure to make way for talking movies and in walks Mabel (Rebecca LaChance). She’s a girl from the deli who turns Mack’s head with a ‘you got moxie, kid’ mentality and she becomes the star of his flicks and they begin an unconventional love affair. He won’t send roses.
Rebecca LaChance is a sensation, her voice unfaltering and spine tingling. Her rendition of ‘Time Heals Everything’ was beautifully moving and enchanting with real bluesy heart. She plays Mabel with just the right amount of girlish vivacity, swept up in a world of Vaudeville and twenties glamour that devastatingly ends her glittering career short. From the lights of Broadway, LaChance is a bit of a fledgling star here in the UK, but I think we can come to expect great things from her.
Robert Jones’ design is a beautiful contrast of bustling film sets, with swinging film crane, pie throwing and Keystone cop chases that are offset with solitary moments of stark reflective lighting. The moving train carriage and waiting ocean liner are creatively captured with John Driscoll’s inspired projection, alluding to the old gems of the silver screen.
The real scene stealers come from Stephen Mears spectacular choreography, ‘A Hundred Girls’ was my absolute favourite, complete with bathing beauties, perfectly set against a flickering film reel backdrop. Equally the ‘Keystone Cops’ routine is a brilliantly composed piece of slap-stick joy, reminiscent of the Laurel and Hardy or Buster Keaton films.
This is a love story, a doomed love story, that gets swept up in the pizzazz and style of a sparkling musical delivered by a sensational ensemble. Mack and Mabel offers a highly enjoyable, fizzing production that is the perfect tonic to tap your troubles away.
Mack and Mabel runs until 5th September at the Chichester Festival Theatre.
(Photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan)