More than once Gypsy has been called one of the crowning achievements of the 20th Century American Musical Theatre. And well it should be, considering that the combined talents of three of our greatest theater artists collaborated to bring it to life. With a book by the brilliant Arthur Laurents, music by the divine Jule Styne and lyrics by our resident genius, Stephen Sondheim we could have expected nothing less. Loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, it tells the story of Rose, the quintessential stage mother of all mothers bringing up two daughters to perform onstage during the 1920’s & 30’s. Leaving Seattle with an act that features her daughter June, Rose traipses around the country trying to get bookings on the Vaudeville circuit. The character of Louise, the older, shy, neglected daughter, is based on Lee herself, while June is based on her extroverted sister, the actress, June Havoc. It is a nostalgic view of the ups and downs of show business from the performer’s perspective. And yet, the character of the indomitable Rose is one of the first truly complex characters to grace the musical stage.
From the score, songs such as Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Let Me Entertain You, Together Wherever We Go, Small World, Some People and All I Need is the Girl have all been inducted into the standard hall of fame. Not to mention the fact that the colloquial expression. “Everything’s coming up roses”, now in the modern vernacular, was originally coined by Mr. Sondheim.
Denise Whelan sings the pants off the role of Mama Rose and gives a highly emotional performance. Never holding back, Ms. Whelan is always firing on all cylinders. Equally engaging is Greg Wood as her loyal agent and unrequited love interest, Herbie. And when these two are on stage together they exude terrific chemistry. As Louise, Kim Carson sings “Little Lamb” with a lovely lyric soprano and her scene with Tulsa, her first boy crush, is very touching. Lara Hayhurst is as bouncy and vivacious as any June should be and her duet with Ms. Carson, “If Momma Was Married” is a highpoint, not only for the show but for both ladies. Matt Raftery does a fine job as the exuberant Tulsa, who by the very nature of the role needs to be a triple threat. And though Mary Martello steals the scene as Mazeppa with her mere daunting physical presence and audacious comic flare, Charos Leos gives her a good run for the money with her hysterical facial ticks as the very shocked, Electra.
Equally as shocking is the fact that Marc Robin directed this behemoth of a show in only ten days. Though I was a little disappointed in the choreography for the chorus (no tap number), I don’t think the choreographer had the dancers needed to showcase anything too difficult. Nevertheless, it’s a big, splashy show and if you’ve never seen the stage version of “Gypsy” do yourself a favor and go.
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