Albert Nolan will play Vera, and Jennifer Ellis will play Mame’s nephew Patrick.
And everyone else will play, well, everyone else in Baton Rouge Little Theater’s staged reading of Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame.
Make that several “everyones” because actors in this staged reading will be playing multiple characters. Or is it fair to call this a staged reading?
It’s staged, it’s a reading with actors holding scripts throughout the production. But there are also costume changes and blocking. Not to mention fun. Lots of it.
“We’ll all be playing multiple characters, so there will be a little bit of gender bending here,” Nolan said. “But that’s what makes it all the more fun.”
Actors’ personalities were matched with those of characters. It was a matter of who would do best at playing who. And if you want to find out who Nolan, Ellis, Terry Byars, Kristy Coast, Gerard Killebrew, Jack Lampert, Kelly Martin, John Sallinger III and Zac Thriffiley will be playing, you’ll have to attend one of the three performances of this cabaret show.
That’s a better name for it ? a cabaret reading, complete with tables, chairs and cocktails. It opens on Friday, Aug. 26.
“Tickets are $30, which includes one cocktail,” Nolan said. “But you can continue drinking during the production. So, come to see Auntie Mame, relax with a drink and get ready to laugh.”
One cast member was left out of the aforementioned cast. That was Jennifer Johnson, and there’s no secret as to who she’ll be playing.
She’s Mame in this story, which began as Patrick Dennis’ 1955 novel Auntie Mame. The story chronicles the madcap adventures of a boy named Patrick while growing up as the ward of his deceased father’s eccentric sister, Mame Dennis.
Mame was inspired by Dennis’ real-life aunt Marion Tanner. The novel was a best seller, and in 1958, Dennis followed it with the sequel Around the World With Auntie Mame.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee teamed to adapt Mame’s antics for the Broadway production Auntie Mame, which starred Rosalind Russell. Russell also starred in the 1958 film of the play.
A musical version simply titled Mame starring Angela Lansbury opened on Broadway in 1966, and a film of the musical starring Lucille Ball was released in 1974.
“Now, we’re doing the original version, which is the play,” Nolan said. “I had seen a version of this in New Orleans, and I thought it was a clever idea. So, I brought it up at one of the little theater’s board meetings. I told them we could do it one weekend, and it would be a great way for the theater to make extra money.”
Keith Dixon liked the idea. He’s the theater’s artistic director, and he gathered with Nolan, Ellis and Johnson to read the script and decide which cast members would play the roles.
“We want people to know that this is more than a reading,” Nolan said. “It’s not boring. We all chose and furnished our own costumes and props, so there’s going to be a lot going on.”
The cast has come together for only four rehearsals, which is plenty. Cast members need to be familiar with the material, but this production doesn’t need to be totally scripted.
The idea here is that the show will be different each night. Missteps are part of the fun, and you never know what’s going to happen.
“When I saw the reading in New Orleans, there was a point where an actor lost his place,” Nolan said. “He couldn’t find his line or the page it was on. One of the other actors said, ?It’s on page three, hon,’ and everyone was laughing. And the show went on.”
Speaking of the cast, actors were carefully chosen for this show.
“We wanted to choose actors who are known in the local theater community,” Nolan said. “Again, this isn’t just a reading. It’s a show, and we’re going to see how it goes this year. We might look into making it an annual event.”
Nolan actually is pulling double duty right now, preparing for Auntie Mame while rehearsing for the theater’s 2011-12 season opener, Crazy for You. But he’s not complaining.
It’s work but fun.
Auntie Mame surely will be as much fun to perform as it has been in rehearsals.
Besides, Nolan gets to play Mame’s best friend, the sharp-tongued actress Vera. She’s one of the story’s best characters with the best lines.
“And she’s a drunk,” Nolan said, laughing. “It’s always fun to play a drunk, especially a drunk woman.”
And why not? As Auntie Mame says in the story, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
One thing’s for sure, Nolan and his fellow cast members have joined Mame in life’s banquet, and all are eating well.