Mack & Mabel is a Broadway musical play.
The plot has as its origin the tumultuous relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, a waitress from Flatbush, Brooklyn, who became one of his biggest stars.
In a series of flashbacks, Sennett relates the glory days of the Keystone Studios from 1911, when he discovered Normand and cast her in dozens of his early "two-reelers", through his invention of Sennett's Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Cops to Mabel's death from a heroin overdose in 1930.
With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, the show had a pre-Broadway tryout tour starting in San Diego and then Los Angeles, opening to rave reviews and brisk box office sales in both cities. Buoyed by the critical acclaim and public enthusiasm, Herman and company ignored a number of critical warning signs.
Neither Sennett nor Normand were particularly lovable characters, and their story was darker than that usually found in a musical. As played by Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the age difference between them was far greater than that in real life, and too noticeable on stage to ignore. Director and choreographer Gower Champion devised a number of eye-catching visual effects and spectacular dance sequences, but their brightness proved to be too great a contrast with the somber mood of the piece. His concept of setting the action in the corner of a huge studio soundstage created problems with the set and limited the staging to the extent it was static and boring. Most importantly, audiences didn't want to invest two-and-a-half hours in a musical where the heroine dies tragically at the end.
Efforts were made to resolve the problems at the Municipal Opera in St. Louis, but the more changes that were made, the worse matters became. By the time the show opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway on October 6, 1974, it was less polished and more plagued than it had been four months earlier. Reviews ranged from fair to middling, and the show closed after only 66 performances, Herman's first major flop.
Despite the reviews and short run, the show managed to pick up eight Tony Award nominations - for the book, direction, set and costume design, choreography, actor, actress, and the production itself as Best Musical. Ironically, Herman - whose melodic score had received the best notices - was snubbed.
Herman was deeply disappointed, since the project had been one of his favorites (and remains so, even now), and he felt Merrick had done little to promote it. Despite its failure, the show managed to develop a large cult following.
In 1982, when British ice-skating team Torvill and Dean won the gold medal for ice dance in the World Figure Skating Championships, they performed to the overture from the original cast album. The event was broadcast by BBC Television, and the station was inundated with calls from viewers wanting to know where they could find the music. Demand was so great that the album was re-released in the UK, where it shot to #6 on the charts, unprecedented for a show album, especially one ten years old.
Interest was such that in 1988, a one-time concert version - featuring George Hearn, Georgia Brown, and Tommy Tune - was staged for charity at the Theatre Royal in London's Drury Lane. Despite its ecstatic reviews, it wasn't until seven years later, on November 7, 1995, that a full-scale production, with a book dramatically revised from the original, opened at the Piccadilly Theatre and ran for 270 performances.
The show was revived once again at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury in England, UK. The theatre is famous for John Doyle's triumphant production of Sweeney Todd, which since subsequently transferred into London's West End, before its current run on Broadway and a current UK national tour. David Soul starred alongside Anna Jane Casey in the production which ran for a limited season between March and June 2005. The show won't end there however, as its on a UK tour from January 2006 prior to a West End transfer from April 2006 at the Criterion Theatre. This production has recently posted closing notices for July 1st.