AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Keith Baker
Starring Tovah Feldshuh
Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA
Playing now through January 15, 2011 Box Office: (215) 785-0100 Website:
Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Gypsy is a great big wonderful musical. It’s brimming with great dialogue (Arthur Laurents) great music (Jule Styne) great lyrics (Stephen Sondheim) and great heart. So, what’s not to like? And out of this 1959 Broadway baby have come such classic songs as: Together Wherever We Go, Let Me Entertain You, All I Need is the Girl, Some People (which I cannot stop singing) and Everything’s Coming Up Roses. The last song’s title, coined by Mr. Sondheim, is so brilliant that it has even entered the common vernacular as an idiomatic phrase to denote that things are looking up. Based on the memoirs of the famous aesthetician Gypsy Rose Lee who brought a sense of class to the art of the striptease, this show boasts big sets, big costumes and big emotions, all of it sublimely entertaining as it grinds out the plot.

The story centers on Madame Rose, Gypsy’s mother, who driven by her own ambition and hard scrapple life will stop at nothing to make her two daughters, Dainty June (June Havoc) and her sister Louise (Gypsy) stars in the world of 1920-30’s show business. Unfortunately, the road to stardom is paved with a lot of hard knocks and as Rose and her girls tour the country on the vaudeville circuit they seem to get hit by most of them. Conflicts arise when Rose makes decisions that have nothing to do with the best interests of her daughters; rather they feed her own personal hunger for success and acceptance.

In Bristol Riverside’s production as they do not possess a pit, the twelve piece orchestra is onstage behind the performers and featured in the overture under the sure handed supervision of Musical Director and Conductor, Eric Barnes. The choreography is loyally recreated from the original (Jerome Robbins) by Kathryn Kendall who also plays an over the top Mazeppa and a sarcastic Miss Cratchitt. The dancing is schmaltzy (as befits the early vaudeville sequences) and spirited with some very exciting tap segments especially in All I Need is the Girl.

Beth B. Austin steals whatever scene she is in as the hilariously dippy stripper, Tessie Tura. With her tiny little voice and petite good looks she is reminiscent of Judy Holiday in a G-string. Joe Grundy soars through the air as Tulsa, making his fancy footwork in “All I Need is the Girl” look effortless in the process. One of the musical highlights in this production is If Mama Was Married well sung by Britney Lee Hamilton (June) and Amanda Rose (Louise) whose voices blend like a sister act. Amanda Rose also comes out of the woodwork when she gets to do her strip tease numbers as she blossoms into the famous Gypsy Rose Lee. Another treat is Gaby Bradbury as Baby June whose brassy voice, infectious smile, high kicks and squeals are dead on. Although they have grayed his hair and given him a moustache, Robert Newman is really too handsome to be playing the role of Herbie, the worm. Mr. Newman is a wonderful actor with a beautiful voice and his scenes with Ms. Feldshuh are terrific. We certainly buy their relationship, but it is hard to get past his big macho presence if the dictates of the character instruct us that Herbie is a lily livered jelly fish. (Okay, so new interpretation: He’s just whipped and Rose is the kitten with the whip?) Tovah Feldshuh gets star billing in this production of “Gypsy” and it is easy to see why. Notwithstanding her star power, she is a formidable actress. She is fierce, gritty and primal. In short, she is a force to be reckoned with and her past performances especially as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” which I saw when it was on Broadway give witness to her artistry. However, here, her interpretation of Rose unfortunately misses the mark. She has all the drive, chutzpah and energy of Rose, but she lacks the positive life force that makes her so appealing. Rose is a Mac truck who runs over all in her path but she does it with a smile so the poor victim doesn’t notice until she’s well down the highway. Rose may do terrible things to people, but she’s blind to her transgressions and is never knowingly mean-spirited. Her epiphany to her selfish nature only comes at the end of the show when she sings “Rose’s Turn”. Ms. Feldshuh is also a soprano and the lower range of this role does not seem to be her cup of tea.

The set by Nels Anderson is graced by a big, beautiful, old fashioned proscenium with mini electronic marquees on either side which tell us which city we are in as the show progresses. I thought this was a great gimmick and helped the audience figure out where the characters were at all times. There are many, many scene changes and a revolving set cleverly brings us from a kitchen in Seattle to a hotel room to a Chinese restaurant, ad infinitum. Tracy Christensen’s costume design for Ms. Feldshuh is sheer perfection, with a stunning crushed red velvet coat and black hat that particularly suit Ms. Feldshuh as well as the character of Rose.

Though the running time may be a little long – due to the snappy pacing and great material, you’ll never notice it. This is a very ambitious production for Bristol to undertake and kudos should go out to Keith Baker for putting on the unedited, original version of this musical comedy classic.

For tickets call the box office at 215-785-0100 or log onto Bristol’s website at Return to Home Page

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