Auntie Mame comes to Dayton

Human Race Theatre Company ‘opens a new window’ of fun

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Zack Steele as Patrick, Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Mame and the cast of Mame; photo: Scott J. Kimmins

Just when you think musical theatre productions at the Loft can’t get any better, here’s Mame, over the top with dra-maaat-ic characters (Mame Dennis and her friend Vera Charles), an unbelievably dynamic ensemble, a child actor and expressive live music. Whew! Sit back and enjoy the Jerry Herman score and production based on the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee classic book for the first time or reconnect with it as you would with an old friend.

Lisa Ann Goldsmith sings, dances and exudes the magic of Mame with supreme confidence. “This production is amazing,” she said. “It just couldn’t be more fun. Young Patrick (Peanut Edmonson) and I have totally connected. We’re kin! And Vera Charles (Torie Wiggins), we are bosom buddies.” It’s a pun on one of the production’s many catchy songs. She does “We Need a Little Christmas” with such energy that you may be humming it ’til the holidays.

Wiggins agreed. “This is the most fun on stage I’ve had in a long time,” she said as the two sat for a fast-paced interview. They praised director Kevin Moore, who gave them the freedom to explore, find their creative process and develop their characters. “He sets a high level of professionalism,” each agreed.

Beginning with never-before-done casting of Vera as an African American, Moore said, “It’s not color blind. It is totally possible, of course, that socially crusading Mame would have a great relationship with someone as ‘on stage’ as Vera is. They make it work.”

Annie Pesch as the Japanese houseman, Ito, is also an unusual choice. This versatile actress has grown up in Dayton and acted in the big cities, playing a variety of ages and accents in comedy and drama. She does the accented Ito’s giggling obeisance attentively.

Leslie Goddard plays Agnes Gooch, young Patrick’s wimpy nanny, with swings of character: shocked, amazed, sexy and chagrinned. Then she unleashes a powerful singing voice.

The males hold their own in this female-focused story. Scott Stoney is in his element as banker Dwight Babcock, harrumphing his disapproval of the freethinking parenting Mame displays with her orphaned nephew.

Jamie Cordes oozes charm as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, the southern millionaire who sweeps Mame off her feet, marries her and takes her on an extended honeymoon around the world.

None could have more impact than the ten-person ensemble that skillfully fills 16 separate roles in various scenes, from singing and dancing New York theatricals to becoming southern foxhunters and snooty upper-crust snobs. Sarah Naughton is a standout as the adult Patrick’s empty-headed too-privileged first fiancée.

The dance numbers, often including Mame and a superb six-person core team (plus others), choreographed by Katie Johannigman, a native Daytonian, are high energy and authentic. Sarah Agar is dance captain.

A broadly smiling audience member raved after the show, “Those costumes! I have never seen anything more gorgeous! And so many. Every time we saw Mame she had on something else and, oh, can she wear the elegant clothes.”

Costume designer Christie Peitzmeier validated the observation. “There are 150 costumes in the show. Mame has 16 different complete outfits, including jewelry and shoes.” She also has her very own assistant, Jason Taylor Stewart, who helps her with the super quick changes that occur in the seconds between scenes.

Peitzmeier is on the Human Race Theatre staff as the full-time costume shop manager and, for some shows, including this one, is also costume designer. She explained the planning begins as soon as the play is selected and cast, with fabrics and zippers and buttons and bling ordered, and sketching and pattern drafting finished.

“Color is everything,” she said, explaining how detailed the planning is, considering set color as well as the actors’ characteristics and the emotions of the scenes.

The need to be very conscious of cost impels her to carefully use all resources available: renting or purchasing from other theaters and buying some fabrics or costumes on eBay. Then the actual construction begins with Peitzmeier, fellow costume designer Shirley Wasser and assistant Angelica Clark at the sewing machines. Finally, costumes are fitted to the actors, and the magic that actually took months to achieve appears on stage.

“I will be interested to see the Human Race adapting a huge musical like Mame to smaller spaces,” a ticket holder said, anticipating an upcoming performance.

For director/producer Kevin Moore, planning in all areas is required to make that “big show on a smaller scale” occur so smoothly, it’s hard to know he’s downsized it. The backdrop of a silhouetted New York skyline establishes the place, and the adult Patrick, Zack Steele, expressively but silently reading old post cards documents Mame’s travels and bookends his memories. No dialogue has been cut.

Scenic designer Dick Block at first doubted the multi-scene show could be done in this space. Together, Moore and Block worked on using backdrops, revolving sets and imagination instead, indicating more sites. A moving gondola works for the “Man in the Moon (is a Lady).” Ray Zupp is the scenic artist.

John Rensel did the lighting design, and Nathan Dean did the sound design. Kay Carver stage manages. John Faas is music director and conducts the unseen, lively six-person band.

During that face-to-face interview, Lisa Ann, Torie and I laughingly compared our colorful footwear. Clearly, this is a show that’ll knock your socks off!

The Human Race Theatre Company presents Mame through Nov. 23. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, 8 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. For tickets or more information, please call 937.228.3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.Page

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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