Another brilliant chapter in 54 Below’s tributes to Broadway musicals.
By Joel Benjamin
54 Below has staged numerous “54 Sings…” concerts under the witty auspices of Phil Geoffrey Bond. The latest, an exuberant Mack and Mabel, was one of the best on March 8th. From the brilliant cast to John Fischer’s witty arrangements to Mr. Bond’s sly commentary this was a thorough delight. Jerry Herman’s period-infused score—his favorite—exploded into vibrant life in the Overture and never flagged all the way through to the final number, “When Mabel Comes Into the Room,” sung by the entire cast. By that time the sold-out nightclub was on its feet, over-flowing with warmth and enthusiasm.
Stage veteran Brent Barrett (as Mack) set the mood with a commanding “Movies Were Movies,” Herman’s paean to the wonders of silent films. Delightful Kelli Rabke (who has more than a passing resemblance to the original Mabel (Bernadette Peters), proved her comedy chops with “Look What Happened to Mabel,” mugging with finesse. Mr. Barrett returned for the sad “I Won’t Send Roses.”
The lighter numbers were performed with finesse and great timing. Brian Charles Rooney and Sean McDermott, two handsome fellows with great voices, got to the heart of “I Wanna Make the World Laugh” while rich-voiced Carole J. Bufford, in flapper mode, sang “Tap Your Troubles Away” while a very young Caleb Teicher managed some extraordinary tapping on the tiny 54 Below stage.
Tony Award-winner, Beth Leavel filled the room with “Big Time,” about wanting to move up the entertainment ladder. She was backed by a talented young quartet of singers who also assisted the easygoing Lee Roy Reams in “Hundreds of Girls,” Mack Sennett’s fantasy of bathing beauty bliss.
Molly Pope and Mr. Rooney sang the title song with wit while Donna Vivino gave a biting interpretation of “Wherever He Ain’t,” Mabel’s angry anti-love rant. Emily Skinner’s richly dramatic “Time Heals Everything” wrung every bit of pathos from the lyrics.
Phil Bond’s show and tell script provided context, fascinating backstage gossip and continuity. As usual, his droll demeanor made him the perfect emcee.
John Fischer’s band included Dan Gross on drums, John Convertino on bass and Jeremy Clayton on reeds. Mr. Clayton, in particular, added texture and ambiance as he switched from one woodwind to another.
Photos/Video: Magda Katz
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