Tuesday, 26 September 2017

REVIEW: Mack and Mabel at the Hackney Empire with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra


After a truly sensational concert production of Candide at London’s Cadogan Hall, I had exceptionally high expectations for LMTO’s version of Mack and Mabel. Starring David Badella, Natasha J Barnes and Tiffany Graves, this production was the most entertaining, witty and emotionally-rousing night at the theatre I’ve had this year. 

LMTO’s founder, Freddie Tapner radiates passion and enthusiasm for his art and it is felt throughout the auditorium. Even whilst conducting his orchestra with his back is turned to the audience, we can still see and feel the love of his music. I have pondered for hours about what makes LMTO so special and I think it must just be that this ship is captained by a modern-day musical genius in Tapner. The spectacle of the LMTO on stage in all their glory is a wonderful thing to see so clearly and I can’t imagine I’ll ever tire of it. 

Leading this cast as Mack Sennett was David Bedella whose beautiful bass tones are like smooth caramel - utterly gorgeous. The classic tune “I Won’t Send Roses” was absolutely glorious with Bedella’s voice showing both tenderness and distance in equal measure. As his muse; the unlikely deli-girl-cum-big-screen-star Mabel Normand was Natasha J Barnes. There are world-class performers and then there’s Natasha J Barnes who simply grows more magnetic and captivating with every performance she does. Her spotlight moments, namely her Act 2 ballad “Time Heals Everything” earned their own standing ovations. Barnes is one of Britain’s finest performers and made Mack and Mabel more magic than I could have ever hoped for. She is a star. 

Will Arundell and Matthew Harvey as the wonderful double-act Kessel and Baumann respectively were wonderfully funny. Hit ‘Em On The Head offered some wonderful comic relief (made all the more charming by the smiles from the other performers and musicians sat behind them!) Liam Tamne was absolutely adorable and completely lovable as Frank, a writer who pines after Mabel’s love from afar. 

“Tap Your Troubles Away” is potentially the best-known song from Mack and 
Mabel and in an LMTO first, we were treated to a visual spectacle of tap dancers, led by Tiffany Graves as Lottie Ames. While this was a fabulous number, it was the Act I finale “Hundreds of Girls” which saw Bird College students ambush the Stalls and Royal Circle boxes in a wonderful spectacle of dance which won the evening. There was applause throughout the number and a real sense of awe within the audience for the marvellous talent on display. What a treat!

Mack and Mabel was a truly delicious evening with Natasha J Barnes as the all important cherry on-top. Tapner absolutely nailed his direction for the score (yet again) and I cannot wait until the next concert evening and see what LMTO next to surprise

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★★★★★
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