“Mame” gets an update


The character of Mame, portrayed by Rosalind Russell in 1958, Angela Lansbury in 1966 and Kevin Hanson in 2010.

If you have never seen the story of Mame, either as a musical or as a play, on stage or on film, you are missing out.

First written as two books by Patrick Dennis, the story of Mame is that of an eccentric woman who raises her nephew amidst a life filled with parties, artists and adventure. In the course of his alternative education, nephew Patrick learns to live life to the fullest and not attempt to be anyone other than himself. The first novel, "Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade," published in 1955, spent 112 weeks on the bestseller list.

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Over the next two decades the story of Mame and Patrick was transformed into a Broadway play, a film, then a Broadway musical, and a movie musical. But in the years since, Mame's outrageous personality has faded in contrast to our modern world. What was unconventional in the 1950s is well, unremarkable by today's standards.

However, Steven Meerdink and Kevin Hansen, the co-founders of Minneapolis Musical Theater, thought the message of the story was still worth telling. And, Hansen says, it's simply a great musical:

It's a little bit too much of a lost gem - people don't realize how many of the songs they know are from this show.

The soundtrack to Mame features songs like "Bosom Buddies," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "If He Walked Into My Life."

So how to update the show so that Mame seems as outrageous as she did back in 1955? The music is too specific to the time period to change the setting of the story.

For Meerdink and Hansen, it only required one simple change. Hansen would play the lead role. Meerdink explains:

This is not a "wink wink - she's a man! show." Mame is all about "be who you are" and this just happens to be who she is. She's an advocate for everybody.

Other than a few key changes to accomodate Hansen's range, nothing else about the story has been altered. No line changes whatsoever. Hansen says it's really the same story:

That's the intent. It's more to highlight what's been muted, so we're going back to the original intent of the show and that character, going back to its roots.

Meerdink and Hansen say it's fitting that the show will be up for Twin Cities Pride, which marches right past the Illusion Theater's front door on Hennepin Avenue, where the show is being staged.

So what's the most challenging aspect of taking on the role of Mame? Kevin Hansen says it's all about stamina:

You start and two and a half hours later you stop and it feels like 10 minutes. The only breaks Mame gets from stage are for lightning fast costume changes, and there are about 16 of them.

Meerdink says Hansen's Mame is probably more actively involved in the dance numbers than Angela Lansbury was on Broadway, yet Hansen is actually five years older than Lansbury was when she took on the role.

Meerdink adds the real balancing act for this production has been to make Mame outrageous while not letting her turn into a charicature. Hansen agrees:

You can get tripped up by starting with "wild, eccentric, crazy." Nobody starts there, they start with "this is who I am." It's a real person with real relationships. So we started from there and it's only in the last couple of weeks that we've been adding some eccentricities to her character. And we make sure those traits come from the inside, not the outside.

"Mame" runs June 11 - 27 at the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis.