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By Otto Harbach, Frank Mandel, Vincent Youmans & Irving Caesar

Directed by Mark Steven Robinson



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Photos by Skip Hooper

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Theatre Memphis plays up subversive side of 'No, No, Nanette'

High-energy farce allows director freedom to tell story

By Jon W. Sparks

June 7, 2012


For Mark Robinson, the farce is the thing.


The New York-based director is helming Theatre Memphis' production of "No, No, Nanette," which he describes as a perfect show to start the summer. "It's a big scoop of ice cream with bright songs, vibrant costumes, a funny cast, and it's there for one reason alone: energy. It's a show that will have the audience singing."


For all its innocence, it is also steeped in the subversive element of farce, to which Robinson feels a kinship.


"There are directors who will tell you their greatest influences are George Bernard Shaw, or Laurence Olivier or Shakespeare," he says. "My greatest influence was Bugs Bunny cartoons. They're all rooted in farce, and this show is a farce. I've got the background that lends itself to a play of people running around with mistaken identities, so it's great to bring that to the stage."


The story centers on three couples who end up in an Atlantic City cottage dealing with the zany side of scandal and rumors. Nanette, a Manhattan heiress who still wants to explore life before settling down, is at the center.


"The play was originally produced in 1925 on Broadway and was re-envisioned in 1971 under the supervision of Hollywood legend Busby Berkeley," Robinson says. "That's the version typically done and what we are doing. When I began to approach the show, I decided I didn't want to update it, but let it be what it needs to be: very specific to the 1920s. There's language in it, like 'rumble seat' and 'rotogravure' that would be out of place if you updated it. So I wanted to keep it in the '20s and utilize the great talents we have in Memphis."


The cast includes several local stage stalwarts who Robinson says are bringing the requisite energy to the enterprise.


"With actors ranging in age from 13 to 80 with varying degrees of experience, it's a blessing to have actors like Bennett Wood, Jude Knight, Emily Pettet and Rob Hanford who are not only experienced but bring a great esthetic and attitude to the rehearsal process," Robinson says. "They are a great example for the kids who don't have a lot of experience and want to get their feet wet and have somebody to look to. So I feel blessed to work with them, and it's a complete joyful experience."


The script, by the way, has nothing but dialog — no stage direction except for what the characters say. Robinson says that gave him the freedom to create some funny moments that aren't necessarily in the script but are true to the situation.


"This is such a physical show with so much racing around and nothing tying me down on how I want to tell the story," he says. "So I can bring farcical elements to the show and see if it works, and in this show, it does. "


Robinson promises that the show does have a few surprises. "I don't want to give them away," he says. "But I'll say this: It's the first time in my career I've ever had to choreograph bubbles. Or a vacuum cleaner."


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