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I Remember Mama

Cover to cast recording

Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan, additional lyrics by Raymond Jessel based on the play by John Van Druten from stories by Katherine Forbes

Majestic Theatre - 31 May, 1979 (108 perfs)


This musical version of the famous play was Richard Rodgers' final work before he died. Katrin, a successful writer, reads from her memoirs, reliving her memories of her Norwegian mother and family. She takes us back to San Francisco at the turn of the century when she was sixteen, and we learn that Dada has lost his job and may have to take his family back to Norway. Only when Katrin finally manages to sell her first story to a magazine do they manage to stay in America.

The Story:

Katrin Hansen is a successful writer but the scene she describes at the opening of the show is from a much earlier time - when she was a young girl in San Francisco. She recalls the house where she grew up describing her three sisters, Christine, Johanna and Dagmar, her brother Nils and her father but best and most of all she says, "I Remember Mama."

We are transported back in time and we meet the family including Katrin at the age of 16. Papa, a worker at the local shipyard, brings home some violets and his hard-earned 22 dollars for Mama's household bank account. There never seems to be enough money - Katrin wants some new shoes, Nils needs books for high school - but Mama is ever the optimist.

Katrin is determined to become a writer and begs to be allowed to stay up late so that she might be touched by the muse of inspiration. She tells her mother of all the wonderful characters who visit writers at night.

The following day is Mama and Papa's anniversary and they are throwing a party. Most of the relatives are coming - Aunt Sigrid, Aunt Jenny and Aunt Trina, who has fallen in love with the local undertaker - and many of Hansen's friends. Katrin asks whether or not everyone will dance until dawn, just as they do in Dickens' novels. Mama tells that not everything is to be found in books - look around and observe the wonders that abound.

After everyone takes their leave, Papa and Mama wander out onto the porch. Things aren't going too well at the shipyard and Papa is concerned. Mama realises that so much of her life is concerned with the welfare of the children that she completely overlooks the concerns of her husband. They drink a toast and reaffirm their love for each other.

We move forward six months and Papa has lost his job. He thinks he might take his family back to Norway where work can be found but Mama wants to stay in San Francisco. The three Aunts arrive warning of the imminent arrival of Uncle Chris - the unofficial head of the Halvorsen family. Trina will marry her undertaker if Uncle Chris gives his permission even though Uncle Chris is a disagreeable man. The family take notice of him because he has the family fortune. He arrives but when he learns that the undertaker is Swedish he refuses to give his permission.

Dagmar, the youngest daughter, has been complaining of feeling unwell. Uncle Chris and Mama take her to hospital where appendicitis is diagnosed and which necessitates an operation to remove it.

A few days later, Uncle Chris is getting ready to return home to his ranch. He finds out that Trina's undertaker is not only Swedish but is a Methodist. He restates his opposition to the alliance and again refuses his permission for a marriage to take place.

Papa has still not found a job and the landlord is insisting on the payment of outstanding rents by July or the family will be evicted. Papa receives a letter offering him a job in Norway. He says he will go, find a house and then send for Mama and the children. The children don't want him to go but Mama says that she and the children will stay in America.

We move forward in time to spring 1911. Papa is gone and Mama has to work harder than ever to make ends meet. Katrin has tried, unsuccessfully to sell one of her stories in order to help with the family finances.

Aunt Jenny comes over to give Mama some advice: "take the children and go to Norway to be with Papa." Mama will not go. She is still angry and feels that it was wrong of Papa to leave the family.

Katrin sees in the newspaper that a famous writer, Dame Sybil Fitzgibbons, is making an appearance at the Fairmont Hotel. Mama comes up with the idea that Dame Sybil could read and appraise Katrin's stories and duly takes Katrin down to the hotel to meet with the writer. Mama convinces Dame Sybil to read the stories and returns with a a piece of advice for Katrin - write about what you know, not what you have read in other books.

Uncle Chris is dying and the family assembles at his ranch. As he has been secretly married for years, the Aunts won't inherit anything but before he dies, he gives Trina permission to marry the undertaker. He tells Mama to go to Norway to be with Papa - she is tempted.

Mama eventually decides that she will take the children and go to Norway. Katrin wants to stay in San Francisco and lead her own life. She is now 17 - the same age as Mama was when she married Papa. Suddenly Mama realises how much time as passed and that her little girl has suddenly become a woman.

As the family begins packing for the journey to Norway Papa reappears. He couldn't bear to be any longer without his family and realises that America is the place for them all.

A letter comes for Katrin from Colliers Magazine with a payment of $500 - for the publication of her first story. She has taken Dame Sybil's advice and written about her family. Everyone is together again, and gathers around Katrin to hear her read the story: "For as long as I could remember, the house on Steiner Street had been home ... all of my earliest memories are of my family and of that house on Steiner Street. I remember, with love, all who lived there, but best, and most of all, I remember Mama."


4 men, 5 women, 1 boy, 4 girls, chorus


2 flutes (2nd db. piccolo), oboe db. cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bassoon db bass clarinet, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, 2 percussion, harp, piano db. celeste, strings

Musical Numbers:

  1. Easy Come, Easy Go
  2. Ev'ry Day
  3. Fair Trade
  4. I Remember Mama
  5. It Is Not the End of the World
  6. It's Going To Be Good To Be Gone
  7. Lars, Lars
  8. A Little Bit More
  9. Lullaby
  10. Mama Always Makes It Better
  11. A Most Disagreeable Man
  12. Such Good Fun
  13. Time
  14. Uncle Chris
  15. A Writer Writes at Night
  16. You Could Not Please Me More