Spend the holidays with Mama and her family

Civic Light Opera Company mounts Rodgers' musical comedy

A perfect family show has opened just in time for the holiday season. The Civic Light Opera Company is presenting Richard Rodgers' final musical I Remember Mama.

At the age of 76, Rodgers had lost little of his gift for melody. The songs, though less well known than some of his classic scores, have a familiar feel.

So does the story inspired by John Van Druten's play of the same name, which director Joe Cascone points out in his extensive and fascinating program notes, was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1944. Cascone presents the story in an intimate setting that brings out all the homespun charm.

Yet just when the show is getting a little too saccharine, along comes Larry Westlake as Uncle Chris to give it an edge. A Mel Brooks-like curmudgeon, Westlake nearly steals the show, balancing warmth in his scenes with the kids against impatience with his unmarried niece, Trina. Heather Goodall gives a delightfully amusing performance as the spinster, while her skittish suitor is played with squirrel-like comic invention by Scotty Newlands. Also of note is a brief but bright cameo by Paula Wilkie as the world famous author Dame Sybil Fitzgibbons.

Most of the show, however, centres on the family. Though the script gets a little clich�©d at times, Dana Whitelaw's Christine comes out with a good sarcastic line or two to cut the treacle and keep things rooted in reality.

There are times when the show could use a little more reality and a little less showbiz pizzazz. When the cast face front and start singing and dancing we are reminded that we are watching a musical comedy and not just peeking in on this Norwegian family settling in San Francisco in 1911.

Offsetting these sequences, however, are moments of touching simplicity, notably the scenes between Papa (David Haines in an uncharacteristically serious role for which he is well suited) and Mama, played with a healthy mixture of compassion and spunk by Caroline Moro-Dalicandro.

As the eldest daughter and narrator of the story, Andrea Barker could easily steal the focus but she carefully directs our attention back to Mama. The final lingering look between Mama and Katrin at curtain time says it all. Talk about Method acting! These two ladies play so beautifully off one another that you find yourself believing they really are mother and daughter.

The show, though not specifically a Christmas story, begins and ends with the family's Christmas celebrations of 1910 and 1911. What better way to spend the holidays than a visit with Mama and her family?

I Remember Mama continues at Fairview Library Theatre until Jan. 6. Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 31.

Visit www.civiclightoperacompany.com or call 416-755-1717.

User Comments