|Mame Wows Riverside Audience|
WFIT (NPR - Melbourne)
March 1, 2017
Director James Brennan told Michele Ragusa she was born to play the role of Mame Dennis. She thinks he just might be right.
"I just love her zest for life. I'm all about that myself, enjoying life to the fullest, having a good time and making everyone around me have one as well," says a vivacious Ragusa in a telephone interview from Plainfield, New Jersey home.
After starring as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello Dolly! last season, Ragusa returns to Vero's Riverside Theatre in the lead role of the classic Jerry Herman musical Mame, which runs from March 7 through 26.
Ragusa nails the free-spirited 1920s New Yorker, taking to the role with gusto. With a mighty voice and a brash sensibility, Ragusa superbly conveys Mame's ravenous optimism in such numbers as "Open a New Window" and "We Need a Little Christmas."
Directed and choreographed by Brennan, the company will be headed by Ragusa whose extensive Broadway credits include Young Frankenstein, Urinetown, A Class Act, Ragtime and Cyrano.
The original Broadway production opened in May 1966 at the Winter Garden Theatre with Angela Lansbury as Mame and Bea Arthur as Vera Charles. Both Lansbury and Arthur won Tony Awards for their performances. Based on Patrick Dennis’ novel Auntie Mame, the production features a score by Jerry Herman and the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. Mame is a larger-than-life personality living the high life in the Roaring Twenties in New York City. When her wealthy brother dies, his 10 year old son Patrick comes to live with her.
Auntie Mame, shocked but delighted to find herself in the role of a guardian, buys Patrick every toy imaginable, shows him the town from high life to low back streets, teaches him how to mix a martini, and showers him with love. After Patrick’s trustees take him away to a conservative boarding school, and the stock market crash leaves her penniless, fearless Mame tries, with comically disastrous results, to find a job for the first time in her life, but perseveres with humor and style. The musical follows Patrick and Mame from 1928 through 1946 through assorted ups and downs including Mame's marriage to Beauregard Burnside, widowhood and the rescuing of Patrick from marriage to the wrong girl.
"She goes through so many changes, but flows with it through the journey's end, not knowing what it will be," Ragusa says.
Ragusa is thrilled to be performing again at Riverside Theatre.
"I have so many friends that have worked at Vero Beach," Ragusa relates. "Everyone is impressed with Riverside's production values. They have to be in the top ten in the country. I couldn't believe the size and sturdiness of the sets. They just take so much pride in creating them. I'm also bowled over by the sound quality. It's better than Broadway.
"Working with Jim Brennan is extra special," she added. "We have this nice shorthand where everything comes together so very well. Plus, we get three weeks of rehearsals, not two. That's a big budget item, but they take care of it."
She enjoys performing in regional theater where there tends to be more creative freedom.
"Broadway is about being a spectacle, but also money since it costs so much to produce those shows," Ragusa explains. "At regional theaters it's about the art. You can interpret the show sometimes in a different manner whether it be a time period or locale. That keeps things fresh."
During rehearsals for Mame the cast is working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but once the production begins on March 7th they have some free time to explore Vero's sights and sounds.
"Last year we went to Citrus and Cobalt after the Sunday shows," Ragusa says. "We just love sitting on the patio having some drinks and looking out over the that blue-green ocean. Hard to top that."
Tickets, which start at $35, can be purchased by calling the Box Office at (772) 231-6990 or visit riversidetheatre.com.
Photos courtesy of Riverside Theatre
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