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Mama, you been on my mind
How the music of the late Mama Cass and the death of her mother combined to inspire Kristin Kapelli.
Joe Jackson, 08 Jun 2004
There are at least a half dozen legitimate reasons to go see The Songs Of Mama Cass, which was a huge hit at last year’s Dublin Theatre Fringe Festival and is now running at the perfect location of Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre. Most obviously there are the songs themselves, including timeless Mamas and The Papas classics like California Dreaming, Monday Monday, Creque Alley and I Saw Her Again, which are delivered with such harmonic precision, most of these interpretations are just a beat away – if even that – from the meticulous original harmony lines of the original group.
Stand up and take a bow Musical Director Ronan Johnston, female backing vocalists Joanne Johnston, Lynn O’Hara and the three musicians/singers Brian Hogan, Larry Hogan and Lance Hogan. If nothing else this is one hell of a recreation, musically, of ’60s California pop. And credit must also go to long-time Mama Cass freak Bill Hughes who has, suitably enough, taken Cass out of the closet and reminded us of all the great music she made with The Mamas and The Papas but also her own solo recordings.
But the undoubted star of this show is Kristin Kapelli who plays Mama Cass. One reviewer said “she is” Mama Cass but there’s more to it than that. Far more. In fact when Kapelli sings a slowed down, Mama-on-the-skids version of ‘California Dreaming’ in the second, darker half of the show she takes the song further than maybe even Mama Cass could have envisioned. Or anyone in the audience could ever guess.
The reason being that just 36 hours before this show opened at Spirit earlier this year, Kristin’s mother killed herself back home in America. And it was from her mother that Kristin had first heard The Mamas and The Papas when she “borrowed a cassette of their songs”. So how the hell did she make it through that first opening night, if not all performances since?
“Being in this show actually helped me through the whole ordeal,” she says, sitting backstage on her latest opening night. “And the reason it helped me was because I’ve never, ever worked with a group of people like this before, who were so supportive and so great. And I don’t just mean musically. They really looked after me. Bill Hughes and Bernardine (Hughes’ business partner) were fantastic, I don’t know what I would have done without them. It also helped that the songs in the show, and the story we are telling, though tragic in its own way, is ultimately joyful. And singing something like ‘My Love’ helps me discharge the pain because I just sing that to my mother, it’s so poignant. And I relate to Mama Cass. She had such a hard life, in a way, despite all her success.”
Why did Kristin’s mother kill herself?
“Financial reasons,” she replies. “My mum was 53, she lost her job, ran up debts and just saw no way out. The sad part is that I hadn’t seen her for 12 years, because I moved over here back in the late ’80s, when Ireland became the centre of the musical world. We also had our own problems, but I had intended going home after the first run of The Songs of Mama Cass, to see my mother. That’s the real tragedy.”
Neither did Kristin make it home for the funeral because The Songs of Mama Cass had just opened. And, despite a break between the last run and this, it’s been her life ever since.
“That helps too,” she says. “Because like many people in the audience, who may know only four or five Mamas and Papas songs, this whole thing is a voyage of discovery for me. We all just forget how varied and how great the music was that Mama Cass made. And, to tell you the truth, each night before the show, I’d say, ‘Mom, please help me through this, give me the strength to give this all I got’, and for those two hours on stage I felt I gave it 150%. Even more than my usual 100%. And part of the reason for that, part of the energy I have up there on stage is due to my mother’s death. And of course, the songs of Mama Cass, which really are such a thrill and delight to sing. I just hope even a measure of that energy and joy comes across to an audience.”
It does Kristin, 150 per cent.
The Songs Of Mama Cass is running at the Liberty Hall Theatre (01) 8721122