Mack & Mabel, originally released in 1974 (Michael Stewart’s book was revised for this version in 2015 by his sister Francine Pascal), is a fabrication of fact and fiction – delivered in flashback from the point of view of Mack Sennett (1880-1960).
Mack admits to two obsessions: movies and Mabel Normand (1892-1930). He is the struggling director in the teens of the 20th century, who transplants his studio “family” to California, sets up Keystone Studios and rat-a-tats out slapstick two-reelers. She is the girl from the deli who erupts on to the set with a sandwich delivery. Mack spots potential. Mabel becomes a star.
They fall in love, but he’s not romantic (“I won’t send roses”); she is (dreamily reprising this declaration of non-commitment). He wants “to make the world laugh”; she wants acting to be more than pratfalls and guffaws. Artistic differences tear them apart – spectacularly when Mabel’s on-set explosion sets off a custard-pie fight! She leaves to make feature films; he launches the Bathing Beauties, Keystone Cops and a thousand pie-in-the-face gags: “No one pretended that what we were doing was art.”
With spectacular production numbers and recreations of iconic silent film scenes mixed with a healthy dose of laughs, romance, action and tragedy – topped off with the genius of Gerry Herman’s score – this show is pure entertainment.