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Plain Jane Theatre ups the ante with Mack and Mabel

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am

Left to right: Fred Zbryski, Amber Bissonnette, Jason Hardwick, Jeff Haslam (front), Patricia Zentilli (front), Steven Angove, Leah Paterson.
Left to right: Fred Zbryski, Amber Bissonnette, Jason Hardwick, Jeff Haslam (front), Patricia Zentilli (front), Steven Angove, Leah Paterson.
Supplied photo

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Mack and Mabel
Jan. 9 to 18
Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: $20/regular; $15/students. Call 780-420-1757 or online at

Renowned for excavating experimental and lesser-known works from the musical theatre catalogue and reshaping them into award-winning Fringe productions, Plain Jane Theatre launches a new event.

It is leaping into the main theatre season with a concert series for lesser-recognized musicals of important composers and lyricists.

The first one is the 1920s love affair Mack and Mabel opening at Varscona Theatre on Thursday, January 9 for a 10-day run.

After last summer’s successful production of Little Fish at the Edmonton Fringe, artistic director Kate Ryan’s decision to follow up with Mack and Mabel is a gutsy one.

Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly) and Michael Stewart’s original 1974 musical about silent-movie director Mack Sennett and his tempestuous affair with his star-muse had a short, rocky run. Rewritten, it later received high praise in London.

Mega-hit musicals Hello, Dolly and Mame had anointed Herman as an A-list composer. Expectations ran high, but unfortunately Mack and Mabel closed after eight weeks. This in no way deterred Ryan.

“Being raised with a musical theatre father (the late Tim Ryan, former chair of MacEwan musical theatre department), his knowledge was so vast. I was always surrounded by all kinds of music, not only well known but lesser known musicals. They are all familiar to me.”

“As we grew up, we talked a lot about composers. If you look at Jerry Herman’s program of works they’re wonderful, and I felt excited about developing his work,” says Ryan, a St. Albert Catholic High graduate and former St. Albert Children’s Theatre actor.

At the Fringe she carved a solid reputation as a director of hit musical gems such as Fiorello!, Bells Are Ringing and Ankles Aweigh. But the Fringe had a time limit of 80-minute productions and Ryan was itching to explore longer musicals.

A concert series where actors read on book seemed the perfect answer for a small, low-budget company. And Mack and Mabel is filled with all the elements of juicy tabloid story – a waitress spotted by Mack Sennett, King of Comedy and creator of the Keystone Cops is cast in a couple of two-reelers and shoots to stardom.

But the lovers’ stormy and heart-wrenching real life is a far cry from the happily-ever-after ending in movies. Ambition, affairs and the talkies threatening to forever change the landscape of movies puts a great deal of pressure on their lives. Romance morphs into jealousy, and stardom brings scandal.

“She adored him, but he was terrified of committing. Everyone is so driven with work. It’s so sad to see how it destroys their lives.”

Jeff Haslam stars as Mack, a director who was the innovator of slapstick comedy and directed over 1,000 short films.

When Ryan was casting Mack, she immediately knew the versatile Haslam was perfect for the role.

“We had done Hello Dolly together at the Citadel and Jeff adores Jerry. He’s his favourite composer.”

And she describes Patricia Zentili, cast as Mabel, as ideal for the role.

“She surprises you. She comes off as a fragile soul, but she has a wicked sensibility.”

Also starring are Amber Bissonette, Jason Hardwick, Leah Paterson, St. Albert’s Steven Angove and Sturgeon County’s Frederick Zbryski.

“This is really a story of characters. The performances are great. It’s really about great, celebrated artists and their music. For this time of year, it will lift your spirits.”


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