BEVERLY — The original Broadway cast album of “Mame,” the one with the yellow cover featuring a silhouette of Angela Lansbury, was a favorite in my household growing up. I can still hear my mom, God bless her soul, singing the title song at the top of her lungs.
Those memories came flooding back Thursday night, as North Shore Music Theatre opened its 2018 season with a wonderful production of this classic Broadway musical. At the end of Act I, the audience joined in with its own rousing rendition of “Mame” that’d coax the blues right out of the horn.
Playing Mame here is Paige Davis, who is probably best known as host of TLC’s hit TV show “Trading Spaces.” Fact is, she has an extensive theater background that includes playing Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway.
She’s a tad tentative in the early going, but she soon takes control and becomes the irreverent, irrepressible, raucous Auntie Mame Dennis we’ve come to know and love. Davis shines brightest after intermission, when she’s Mame at her most bohemian, flamboyant and impetuous. It’s a bravura performance; she’s a fine actress, dancer and singer.
Mame’s carefree sleep-to-the-crack-of-noon lifestyle is disrupted when nanny Agnes Gooch (Lauren Cohn) and her charge, 10-year-old Patrick (Jake Ryan Flynn), the orphaned son of Mame’s brother, show up at her Manhattan apartment during one of Mame’s riotous all-night shindigs.
Flynn, a young actor from Wenham who recently made his Broadway debut as Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” has appeared in many NSMT productions. None have been as taxing as this role; his young Patrick is on stage for nearly every second of Act I.
Jake, whose mom, Mary (Wells) Flynn, grew up in Lynn, handles the role with ease. He and Davis are great together, and he draws loud laughter in a scene when he makes an early-morning martini for Dwight Babcock (NSMT superstar David Coffee), his late dad’s banker who has arrived to insist Patrick be sent to an exclusive boarding school.
Cohn is delightful as Gooch, the repressed nanny who adheres to all conservative morals of 1920s society. Mame slips Gooch some hooch and encourages her to show a little cleavage and live life to the fullest. Gooch does, disappears, and when she returns midway through Act II it’s pure hilarity. Cohn has excellent comic timing, and has a lovely voice.
Ellen Harvey, as Mame’s always-pickled, gin-swilling bosom buddy Vera, is a hoot. Every time the Broadway veteran walks on stage, she commands attention.
George Dvorsky, another NSMT favorite (for 15 years he played the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol”), is funny and lovable as southern boy Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, the millionaire who falls in love with Mame. His voice might be the best in the cast.
The dancing is spectacular; the ensemble terrific. Mame’s participation in a “Fox Hunt” is a scream, and Act II scenes in which Mame and her friends socialize with adult Patrick’s fiancée and her social-climbing parents are priceless.
The show’s packed with familiar songs (“We Need a Little Christmas,” “It’s Today,” “My Best Girl”).The costumes, as always, are exquisite.
“Mame” is a great start to what appears to be an especially strong North Shore Music Theatre season (“Peter Pan,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Hairspray).
Auntie Mame proclaims “Life is a banquet and most poor SOBs are starving to death.” She’s right. Give life quite a tumble; live life all the way. See this production. It’s at NSMT through June 17.