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Culture: New show for centenary.

DURHAM'S oldest performing arts group is celebrating its 100th birthday with a special production never before seen in the UK.

To mark its centenary year, Durham Musical Theatre Company is producing two big shows and the first, Mack & Mabel, opened last night.

The new version of the musical, which is based on the real-life bittersweet love affair between silent movie director Mack Sennett, creator of the Keystone Kops, and comedienne Mabel Normand, the heroine of his two-reeler films - will run at Gala Theatre in Durham until Saturday.

And this being its British premiere, the production has attracted the interest of both Jerry Herman who wrote its music and lyrics - and also penned other hit musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles - and American author Francine Pascal, who wrote the book for the new version.

Francine Pascal is the sister of the late Michael Stewart who wrote the original book.

The musical has seen many revisions, and this latest one - which has been performed in only America and Canada - was completed by Pascal in 2002.

"Francine told us it's now the only authorised version which is allowed to be performed and we will be the first people to do this,"says Anthony Smith who plays Mack.

The writer has been giving the company's production team advice over the past months, while Jerry Herman wrote a letter of encouragement.

In it he told them: "It's hardly a secret that Mack & Mabel is a favoured child of mine so I'm particularly delighted that your theatre is doing a new production."

Delia McNally plays Mabel alongside Anthony in the show, which is directed by Fred Wharton from Durham.

Set in 1920s Hollywood, it's packed with memorable songs, including the overture to which Torvill and Dean skated to their gold medal victory for ice dance at 1982's World Figure Skating Championships.

The company's other big production this year will be Hello, Dolly! also by Herman, who said of his double-bill: "Make them fun, fast and entertaining." It will be staged in June as another celebration of the centenary.

Durham Musical Theatre Company started off as Durham Amateur Operatic Society in 1908 with the aim of bringing musicals to the community while supporting local charities.

It flourished until the 1930s depression then re-formed in 1955 and has not looked back since. In 2004 it changed its name.

It now stages all its shows at Gala Theatre, enjoying average audience attendance figures of 95%.

Mack & Mabel is at Gala Theatre, Durham, at 7.15pm nightly until Saturday, with matinees today and on Saturday at 2.15pm.

For tickets call the box office on (0191) 332-4041


STAR ROLES: Mack (Anthony Smith) & Mabel (Delia McNally).; ENTERTAINING: The main principals in the new version of Mack & Mabel showing at Durham's Gala Theatre.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 30, 2008
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