Reviewed by Judy Richter
If ever there were a stage mother from hell, it's Mama Rose in "Gypsy" by composer Jule Styne, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and author Arthur Laurents. Based on the autobiography of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the 1959 musical classic focuses on a mother who is determined to find glory through the show biz success of her two daughters, June and Louise. But despite her apparent single-mindedness, Mama Rose is a somewhat sympathetic character who seems to soldier on no matter how many obstacles are thrown into her path.
Tim Bair, American Musical Theatre of San Jose's relatively new artistic director, makes his local directoral debut with this production. His direction is effective for the most part, but the opening night pace seemed slow, and the energy level needed more wattage. The production features Marya Grandy as Mama Rose. Following in the footsteps of greats such as Ethel Merman, who originated the role on Broadway, Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters, Grandy puts her own stamp on the role. Her Rose is a fast-talking unstoppable freight train who relentlessly pursues her dream through her daughters and who reveals her vulnerability only after both daughters have taken their own paths (June to become actress June Havoc, Louise to become Gypsy Rose Lee) and her longtime, long-suffering agent/boyfriend Herbie has left her. Rose shows that vulnerability through a great soliloquy, "Rose's Turn." Before then, she sings such memorable songs as "Some People" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Grandy acquits herself well in the role, but she uses a pop rather than a legit singing style.
She's ably supported by Rick Hilsabeck as Herbie and Candice Michael as June. Megan Hart Jimenez is generally successful as Louise, but she needs to be more playfully seductive when she assumes her stripper persona. The strippers she first meets -- Elizabeth Palmer as Tessie Tura, Melinda Moreno Miller as Mazeppa and Tami Dahbura as Electra -- need to be more raunchy in their showpiece song, "Gotta Get a Gimmick." The rest of the supporting cast is solid, with kudos to the dancers, choreographed by Troy Rintala.
The costumes by Thomas G. Marquez are terrific, especially some of Rose's dresses. JB Wilson's sets, complemented by Derek Duarte's lighting, are nicely atmospheric for the most part, but the use of large roses to frame most scenes seems to stretch the point. This production marks the unveiling of the theater's renovation with a new lobby carpet and new seats as well as a new sound system. The sound system may be new, but it's not necessarily improved, at least in some respects. Sound designer Hage Van Dijk cranks the sound up too loud with too much treble, and William Liberatore's orchestra sounds tinny and recorded.