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Who can charm the husk right off of the corn? That would be Mame. And who can fill a theater even when the weather is warm? Mame again.

"Mame," the musical comedy based on Patrick Dennis' recollections of his eccentric auntie, is the fifth and last production to open in this 38th Summer Repertory Theatre season.

The annual live theater series, which draws talent from all over California and beyond, continues through early August at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Brought to the stage with great enthusiasm by a platoon of apprentice performers and technicians, "Mame" is evidence of SRT's full return to its roots as a student training program.

In earlier seasons, SRT has sometimes relied more on guest stars and flirted with semi-professional status. In past decades, SRT sometimes stood alone as Santa Rosa's most polished company, but now live local theater is thriving all around town.

So, it's great to see SRT come out with "Mame," the kind of show that SRT was meant to do. After all, a production this big, with a large cast and a 10-piece live orchestra, would cost a fortune if you had to pay everybody more than a modest scholarship.

This is the local audience's chance to see something big and ambitious at a comfortable ticket cost. Directed with fearless flair by Michelle Felten, this show is a visual feast at any price.

The first glimpse of a party at Mame's Manhattan apartment reveals a crowd of characters in outrageous costumes -- a cowboy, a gangster, a sheik, an orthodox priest. (Looks a little like a vintage Village People video.)

Mame, played with song-belting, high-stepping charm by Rebecca Mason-Wygal, changes costumes constantly, looking every bit the fashion plate she's supposed to be, thanks to costume designer Garry Lennon.

Nathaniel Sinnott's set design, with the stage divided into several simultaneously revolving sections, is just as striking, shifting quickly and easily from Mame's digs -- during both boom and bust years -- to the city streets and the countryside beyond.

Anne McAlexander's choreography keeps the whole cast dancing with considerable precision on what becomes a rather crowded stage at times. And every step is lively.

Alex Wise's orchestra produced a big sound, despite occasional wobbles from the horn section. The singers were miked, and glitches in the sound system were opening night's biggest distraction.

The supporting cast is also strong. As Mame's nephew Patrick at age 10, Frank Demma, a small fellow with big glasses and an even bigger singing voice, won the hearts of the opening-night audience, although his spoken dialogue was sometimes lost.

The other men in Mame's life -- Brian Watson as the adult Patrick, David Hadyn as the crusty trustee of his estate, Jess Easley as Mame's Southern beau -- brought an easy and believable presence to their performances.

The women -- Grace Gealey as Mame's prima donna pal and Eve Winters as her frumpy secretary -- stole the show, though, in comedy scenes as well as in songs and dances.

Beloved as it is, this classic musical will be favored by those with strong posteriors. The first performance ran roughly three hours with one intermission.

-- You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.pressdemocrat.com

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