note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Beverly was sparkling with glitterati last week as the newly-reopened North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) kicked off its 2010 season under new owner Bill Hanney with the 1959 classical musical, “Gypsy,” appearing now through July 25.
Besides the stars on stage, the audience was overflowing with state, regional and local politicians, interested theater producers, directors, and performers, and critics from all types of media. Although it wasn’t uttered aloud, most people came to see if Hanney and new Artistic Director Evans Haile could restore the 1,500 theater-in-the-round to its former glory, before it closed due to financial problems.
No worries. The large multi-age cast and company of “Gypsy” had everything coming up roses and entertained audiences in fine style, opening with an overly-long but pleasing orchestral overture, thanks to Musical Director Nick DeGregorio and company, that highlighted the show’s biggest numbers.
By keeping the circular stage clear of props most of the time, by having furniture and other pieces rise from the center of the stage floor by hidden elevated lift or descend from the ceiling, this large, talented cast could sing and dance freely during ensemble numbers. Other times, the production also utilized space amid the audience. During Act I, when teen-age Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) sings her plaintive number, “Little Lamb,” from her bed placed near members of the audience, it was touching.
As in years past, the cast and crew also used all aisles frequently to maximize contact with the audience and to move props off and on stage.
The story or plot, based loosely on Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 autobiography, takes the shine off the stripper and puts her overbearing mother, Mama Rose Hovick, in the spotlight, which earned Rose the ignoble moniker, “Queen of the Stage Mothers”. Mama Rose stole front stage yet again, posthumously, when “Gypsy” became a smash Broadway musical two years later, in 1959.
Rose is determined that her daughters, Baby June (Havoc) and Louise, become the starring act in vaudeville, ultimately reaching the heights at the Orpheum circuit. However, during their brief heyday, vaudeville sighed its dying breath, overtaken by burlesque and talking movies.
Little Sarah Safer as sticky-sweet Baby June and Amanda Lea Lavergne as teen-age June deliver strong performances here.
Celebrated stage-movie-TV star Vicki Lewis is pushy, bossy, and manipulative as Mama Rose; yet reveals her softer underside as she shows affection towards her daughter and her longtime fiance-children’s agent, Herbie (nicely played by Kirby Ward). The couple’s duet “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” is a rare romantic moment. In the play, we understand that Mama Rose wanted her daughters to be stars, but she inwardly resented giving up her own chance at fame by pushing her daughters’ careers.
Director-choreographer Richard Sabellico captures Rose’s unrelenting determination and Louise’s rise from a shy, stumbling, introvertive child to her meteoric rise at 15 years old to the queen of burlesque.
In fact, one of the most entertaining scenes is when three frowsy strippers teach Gypsy the tricks of the trade. Tessie Tura, who in reality was Tessie the Tassel Twirler (Laurie Gamache); Mazeppa, the trumpet-blowing stripper (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) and Electra (portrayed by Jan Neuberger who also plays crochety secretary Miss Cratchit), instruct Gypsy about the fine art of strip tease, in the hilarious number, “You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick”.
Catherine Walker as timid Louise-turned-intellectual strip tease star achieves a remarkable transformation- perhaps too rapidly - with three costume and personality changes. Walker is also touching in Act I, when she imagines with fellow cast member, Tulsa, (nicely portrayed by Pearce Wegener) during their duet, “All I Need is the Girl”.
Aided by strobe lights, fabulous timing and eye-popping technology, NSMT shows the children’s transition to adolescence, while performing their same, old routine in the same costumes.
At times, “Gypsy” is uneven, with drawn-out scenes in the first act and fleeting moments in Act II. The sound system had a few glitches, but overall, the North Shore Music Theatre’s rebirth is a stirring success.
BOX INFO: Two-act, three-hour 1959 musical, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents, starring stage-movie-TV star Vicki Lewis, choreographed and directed by Richard Sabellico; appearing now through July 25 at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday,Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $35-$65. Check also for free audience enrichment events. Call 978-232-7200 or visit www.nsmt.org.