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Getting into the ACT

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When Pat Holloran had his initial encounter with “Mame,” it was not an inspiring experience. Holloran’s first brush was not with Jerry Herman’s hit Broadway musical of 1966, starring Angela Lansbury as the eccentric, life-affirming Mame, or with the acclaimed 1958 film “Auntie Mame,” a nonmusical version adapted from Patrick Dennis’ novel about his lively, real-life aunt.

Holloran had the misfortune to be introduced to “Mame” through the 1974 musical film, a sad affair starring Lucille Ball in the title role. “I saw the movie musical and didn’t like it that much,” confessed Holloran.

But Holloran, a Colorado native who spent years acting on the Denver regional-theater circuit, saw a staged production at Denver’s Country Dinner Playhouse some 15 years ago. That version turned his thinking around about the musical.

“I saw that it had much more depth,” said the 46-year-old Holloran. “The movie was a star vehicle for Lucille Ball, and it lost a lot of its theatrical effect. It wasn’t played for levels; it was kind of one-dimensional. Whereas the script has many levels and runs the gamut of emotion ” there are touching moments, there are great funny moments.”

If Holloran were given the opportunity to select a musical to direct, “Mame” wouldn’t top the list. (Holloran knows well what he would choose, and more on that below.) But when Holloran accepted, in March, an invitation to direct this year’s Aspen Community Theatre fall musical, the producers had already made their selection. So “Mame” it was, and that was OK with Holloran, who had made his ACT directorial debut last year with “My Fair Lady.”

“There are shows you have a soft place in your heart for,” said Holloran, who made the late decision on directing due to his job status. (Holloran is a manager at Krabloonik in the winter, and this past summer managed operations at T-Lazy-7 Ranch, which was leased to Krabloonik’s owner.) “But I’m pretty much interested in directing any kind of show that has a track record. If it were more of an experimental show, I’d be more inclined to have a say in the selection process. The ACT board has been known for making great choices. It’s not a case where you’re going to have a dog thrown in your lap.”

Holloran’s lack of familiarity with “Mame” was actually enticing. “What intrigued me about ‘Mame’ is that I didn’t know a lot about it,” said Holloran. “I had never been in the show. It was a new challenge.”

Once he delved into the material, Holloran found a natural affinity for “Mame.” “My strength is comedy, and this is a strong comedy show,” he noted. “I knew I had something to offer to this production.”

Changing directions

Comparing last year’s production to this year’s, Holloran said it is a completely different thing. “Every cast is different; every musical is different,” he said. “So you never really fall into any kind of routine. So it’s fun. If you ever get jaded or tired of the process, you just look at the people who are new to it and feed off their energy.”

There is a definite touch of newness to ACT’s “Mame.” While there are several recognizable faces in the cast (Jeannie Walla as Vera, Wayne Ethridge as Beauregard Burnside, John Goss as Ito, Mary Sloop as Mother Burnside) and many more in the crew (producers Rita Hunter and Jody Hecht, music director/conductor David Dyer, set designer Tom Ward, choreographer John Goss, costume designer Kathleen Albert and props manager Beth Oden), nearly half of the 36 onstage roles are filled by actors making their ACT debuts. Some of those had not been in a theater production in 20 years, or since their high school musical.

Holloran is hardly a theater novice, having spent most of the last 20 years performing at the Crystal Palace dinner theater. A native of Pueblo, Holloran didn’t get involved with theater until late in his high school years. So when he entered the University of Denver, he was a business management major who spent most of his time in the music and theater departments.

“I didn’t consider it a career option or an avocation,” said Holloran. “I figured it was a short stint of fun and then I’d move on. I still haven’t moved on.”

Holloran’s plan was to move on to law school. Instead, he started working in regional theater, first at Cripple Creek’s Imperial Hotel ” where he made $90 a week plus room and board for doing 12 performances a week of “barely memorable shows” ” then Boulder’s Dinner Theatre. “And then I continued to find work in different theaters, in show after show, and I had so much success and so much fun, I never stopped.”

After two years at Country Dinner Playhouse, Holloran joined the Crystal Palace. “I found I liked being in one place with a fairly steady income. So I stayed there awhile,” he said.

The Crystal Palace offered stability, steady pay and artistic challenges. It was “all the theatrical outlet I needed at the time,” said Holloran.

But the gig, combined with family life ” Holloran has two children, age 14 and 11 ” didn’t allow much time to pursue other theater opportunities. So last year’s work with “My Fair Lady” marked not only Holloran’s debut with ACT, but also his first directing job outside of the few downvalley high school productions he co-directed with his wife, Mary. All this makes Holloran, in a way, nearly as much of a novice as some of his “Mame” cast members. But his lack of experience was no concern to the ACT producers.

“I know Pat,” said ACT producer Rita Hunter. “He has a fabulous sense of comic timing. And actors often make the best directors. Most of all, Pat is great with people. I knew people would work well with him.”

With only two musicals under his belt, Holloran still feels he is getting a good dose of variety.

“The feel of the shows is totally different,” he said. “Both shows require believable characters, but ‘Mame’ is more outrageous. It requires more outrageous characters, more lighthearted fun throughout. So the focus has to be more on pace and timing ” those are two things inexperienced actors have a tough time grasping. And taking outrageous characters and making them believable is another challenge for the show.”

Now that the theater is no longer a full-time job, Holloran looks forward to getting involved in various local theater groups. He says he is sure he’ll work with ACT again. And if given the chance to select a play to be in, he knows exactly what he would choose: “Fiddler on the Roof.” It may be an unexpected choice for the very WASP-y looking Holloran, but he sees it as a perfect shidduch (Yiddish for “match”).

“It’s great comedy, great music,” he said. “They did it in my high school the year before I got involved in theater, and they did it at my college the year after I left. At some point I know I’ve got to be involved with that show. There are a lot of parts I could play, and I could probably be involved with it when I’m 75.”

Aspen Community Theatre’s production of “Mame” is at the Aspen District Theatre Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 6-9, and Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 12-15. All show times are 7 p.m. except the Sunday, Nov. 9, matinee at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Wheeler Opera House box office.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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