Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Gypsy"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark


"Gypsy"

Book by Arthur Laurents,
suggested by the Memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Jules Styne
Directed by Bill Doscher
Choreographed by Laurie Fisher
Musical Direction by Juri Panda Jones

Produced by Kristin MacDougal & Carol Pyper
Assistant Choreographer Matthew Cossack
Set Design by Brian Crete
Lighting design by Paul O'Shaughnessy, Patty Dognazzi, Matt Seo
Costume Design by David Alger
Sound Design & Operator Paul Christman, Jason Sheehan Costume Design by David Alger
Costume Team: Judy Maggs, Sarah Tess Neuman, Amanda Zee
Wigs/Makeup by Kristine Young, Diane Wright
Props Mistress Elizabeth Bean
Assistant Stage Manager Deb Eskie
Stage Manager Vicki Taylor

Uncle Jocko/Cigar...........Larry Shiman
George......................Angel Garcia
Thomas the Tapper............Alec Shiman
Balloon Girl...........Kharimah Muhammad
Chris the Clarinet Player...Chris Gillis
Little Louise.............Madeleine Snow
Baby June..................Tori Heinlein
Rose......................Mary O’Donnell
Pops........................Brad Walters
Mrs. Webber...............Elizabeth Bean
Herbie........................Rishi Basu
Louise/Gypsy...............Johanna Perri
June..............Alanna Gene Woonteiler
Tulsa....................Matthew Kossack
Yonkers....................Michael Mosey
Angie........................Rob Guptill
L.A. ...................Benjamin Mallare
Sunshine...............Sean London Young
Kringelein................Gordon Bedford
Mr. Goldstone...............Jesse Martin
Miss Cratchitt................Judy Maggs
Patsy.....................Gordon Belford
Tessie Tura..................Linda Goetz
Mezeppa......................Amanda Aldi
Electra....................Jenny Bragdon
Phil.....................Matthew Kossack
Caroline the CowJenny Bragdon & Elizabeth Bean

NEWSBOYS:
Elizabeth Bayard; Lissette Velez-Cross; Miranda Gelch; Emily Greenslit; Tania Llera-Stern

HOLLYWOOD BLONDES:
Elizabeth Bean; Sonia Carrion; Miranda Gelch; Molly Gilbert; Sarah Sadie Frost; Amanda Zane

ORCHESTRA:
Music Director............Juri Panda Jones
Keyboards/Synthesizer...Ai Isshiki Higgins
Synthesizer................Jeremy Reinhold
Trumpet.......................Sam Dechenne
Bass..........................Chris Takita
Drums............................Rob Rudin

Others are in contention, but after directing "Gypsy" at The Footlight Club, Bill Doscher might be called "The Scott Edmiston of Community Theatre". Here he handles a cast of thirty-eight, who can do just about anything he asks for, and still manages a fresh take on an old warhorse. His "gimmick" here is to let the Jule Styne music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics take care of themselves while he concentrates on Telling The Story. It's a cliche that "stars" are made more out of drive and determination than talent, but in this backstage saga it's the drive and determination of the performers' Mother that pushes a mediocre kids-act through years of indifferent Vaudeville bookings and, eventually, lets one of them shine. What A Story!

It's true that "Some people ain't Rose!" and Mary O'Donnell, who is onstage nearly every minute of this long saga, is a gem. She has a dream --- several, in fact --- and nothing deters her from pursuit of it, nor tarnishes her hard-bitten optimism with minor triumphs and continual set-backs. Everything in this production points to the climax in which she can say "And if it wasn't for me, where would You be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee?!?!?" When O'Donnell sings that, every moment of the past floods into the mind as necessary prelude.

Along the way there are fresh details. Doscher has covered the seeming thousands of quick-changes with bits and olio's in semi-light that document how tawdry the Vaudeville circuit really was with its shakey jugglers, twirlers, tap-dancers, and comics. (Sample joke: "Two silkworms got into an argument" "And what was the outcome?" "Well, they ended up in a tie.") At the center of it all, however, is "the act" that Rose buys initially for 88-bucks. It features "Baby June" (Tori Heinlein) and her "Newsboys" who in one strobe-light sequence grow ten years older without changing a step or a note. And when "Dainty June" (now Alanna Gene Woonteiler) runs out on the act and her older sister Louise tries to take over, the "Hollywood Blondes" chorus is Still doing the same songs, Laurie Fisher's same steps --- and they still get bookings!

Part of that, of course, is because of their live-in agent. Rishi Basu is a big bear of a man but as Herbie he's gently deferential, quietly paying the chorus out of his own pocket in lean days, suggesting he and Rose quit The Show Business and he can go back to selling candybars wholesale. Of course, he can't compete with Rose's dreams.

Ultimately the act fails, not of its own shortcomings but because the Depression and the Talkies killed Vaudeville. Dainty Louise and Her Hollywood Blondes end up accidentally booked into a Burlesque house in Witchita, and "no one ever comes back from Burlesque." ("Oh, you're the act's gonna keep us from getting raided, right?" quips a stage-hand.)

It's here the plot begins to pick up speed when Louise meets Tessie Tura, played by Linda Goetz in a black butterfly-bikini that Fredericks of Hollywood would envy. Ms Goetz has a body to die for, legs that go on forever, a black butterfly bouncing on he privates, and a professional's heart of gold. She's the one who explains "Ya Gotta Get A Gimmick" and when asked to say three lines in a comedy-sketch "We don't do lines," she sneers, "we're arteests!" but Louise asks "How much?" --- and, before you know it, a star is born! Again, Director Doscher has left in a series of short, sharp scenes in Witchita, Detroit, Philadelphia, and finally Minsky's in New York, in which klutzy Louise becomes glamorous Gypsy Rose Lee before your very eyes.

The transformation is amazing because Johanna Perri's Louise has always been a background-figure and even when rehearsing with the Hollywood Blondes she klutzily proves "I have no talent; Momma Rose always told me that." But Gypsy Rose Lee didn't need talent --- she was a Star! She put the "tease" back in stripping. For one climactic moment Perri poses as nude as strippers ever got (Whatever happened to pasties and g-strings anyway?), while using her classic line: "I know what I am; I'm a stripper; but, at these prices --- I'm an Ecdysiast!"

Okay, that's Gypsy's turn. Then it's "Rose's Turn" --- and Mary O'Donnell turns it on. Her admission, alone in a slut-red dress, that the dream for her daughters was really for her own moment in the spotlight, is deservedly a classic moment in theatrical history --- and a golden moment in the unbroken one-hundred-and-thirty-eight-season history of The Footlight Club. Bill Doscher sees to it that every one of his 38 performers have a moment to shine, but all those separate moments add up to this climax for a classic backstage story.
What a Story!

"Gypsy" (3 - 18 April)
THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB
7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN MA
1 (617) 524-3200

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