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From the start, 'Mame' reveals its winning quality

A show that opens with award-winning potential is a rarity, but 2nd Star Productions' Mame seemed a winner at its debut last weekend at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park.

In 1957, a script by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee brought Patrick Dennis' autobiographical novel to theater with a memorable score by Jerry Herman. They tell the story of orphaned, 10-year-old Patrick, who goes to live with his aunt after the death of his father. Auntie Mame holds parties awash in bathtub gin, savoring the Roaring Twenties in her Manhattan apartment.

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Contributing their talents to 2nd Star's production are director and producer Jane B. Wingard, choreographer Vicki Smith and musical director Donald K. Smith, along with set designer Lynne E. Wilson, costume assistants Linda Swann and Suzi Reams, and lighting and sound designer Garrett R. Hyde.

During last weekend's performance, the orchestra wrestled with some pesky problems. Presumably, Smith will have his musicians note-perfect by this weekend.

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One essential to any production of Mame is a charismatic, talented star to play the title character. In Nori Morton, 2nd Star has a dazzling, lovable, madcap Mame who easily persuades the audience that life is a banquet. Morton's presence commands the stage from the first scene, when -- perched atop a piano in her Manhattan apartment -- she sings a heartfelt "If He Walked Into My Life" and a brassy "Bosom Buddies," handling every nuance of the score while pulling the audience deeper under her spell.

Holding her own in the "Bosom Buddies" duet and in other scenes, Andrea Elward plays the hard-drinking famous actress Vera Charles, providing sharp wit and lots of laughs laced with sardonic spice.

Adorable Andrew Gordon is perfect as young Patrick, whether he is mixing a martini, singing "You're My Best Girl" to Auntie Mame or appearing confused in the adult worlds he inhabits.

Jan Kleckner plays mousy governess-turned-secretary Agnes Gooch, whom Mame talks into partaking in life's pleasures. Kleckner brings the squinting, myopic Gooch to subtle comic life in a somewhat restrained performance that turns riotous in later scenes.

Skilled actor Walt League is memorable in the brief role of the love of Mame's life, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside.

The ensemble "Fox Hunt" number can hardly be improved, and when the cast gathers again for the title song to sing Mame's praises, they create theater magic.

Mame continues on weekends through June 26. Information: 410-757-5700, or check the Web site at www.2nd starproductions.com.


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