Theatre Mack and Mabel Piccadilly Theatre, London

`For all that its neglect has become a cause celebre, Mack and Mabel administers only intermittent pleasure jabs'

The chances are slim, I know, but should the theatre ever wish to hit us with a big-budget musical based on the life of Michael Ignatieff, then for the star role, we need look no further than America's Howard McGillin. He's got the hair, he's got the physique and the bone structure, and he has the same irritating, preppy look of sweetly agonised intellectual integrity. So what, you might ask, is this performer now doing centre- stage in the belated London premiere of the 1974 Jerry Herman musical, Mack and Mabel, where he's called upon to impersonate that doggedly anti- intellectual director of slapstick silent movies, Mack Sennett?

McGillin possesses a voice of terrific unforced range and power, if with little of the sort of personality and compelling oddness that elevates the singing of, say, Mandy Patinkin. To give meaning, though, to the story of the musical - which recounts how Sennett made a comedy star and bed- partner of a simple, New York deli hash-slinger, Mabel Normand, only to drive her to drugs and the arms of a pretentious rival through his career- driven blindness to her craving for love and professional respect - you need a performer who can suggest the character's dogmatic showman's coarseness as well as the reluctant sensitivity from which he is constantly on the run. You believe McGillin's Mack implicitly when he warbles, "I Won't Send Roses", that considerate, bittersweet warning to Mabel that he's too tunnel-visioned for a relationship, but when he sings of "Getting a bang / Out of lemon meringue / In the face" you feel like putting the claim to a practical test.

Though her make-up sometimes makes her look like the long-lost love child of Lily Savage, Caroline O'Connor has a great gutsy appeal as Mabel, an armour-plated, leather-tongued cartoon waif whose rip-roaring rendition of "Wherever He Ain't" is like two ritzily gloved fingers (or maybe one, given the country) shoved up in the air. For all, however, that its neglect has become a cause celebre among the buffs, Mack and Mabel administers only intermittent pleasure-jabs. Too many of the songs present you with the sound of Herman ripping himself off. The perky strut in "Look What Happened to Mabel" recalls the perky strut in "Elegance" from Hello Dolly!; and the chorus's hand-waggling, high-kicking climax to Mabel's return- to-her-old-studio number is a resounding re-treat of "Mame". Once again, Herman's thumbprint as a lyricist (more contractions than a woman in labour) can be seen in "From now on this pile of flesh'll / Be considered something special". A New Statesman parody (sung to the tune of "Mame") might run thus: "You can bet that Jerry Herman'll / Repeat that rhyme until it's terminal / We think you're just sensational / Jerry."

Paul Kerryson's staging has pizzazz, efficiency and the right kind of vulgarity, as it whisks you through the early part of the century from Brooklyn to the palm trees of Hollywood by train and ocean liner and through flashbacks. The wit of the silent-movie pastiches is a mite dismal, though (Mack and Mabel is no Singin' In the Rain), and Michael Smuin's humour- starved choreography is adamantly unsurprising (it's Kathryn Evans's singing that lights up "Tap Your Troubles Away"). Overall, quite good fun, but, to adapt the title of the best song: I Won't Throw Roses.

n Booking: 0171-369 1734

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project