gyps The Grand re-opening show of the new North Shore Music Theatre's season under owner/producer Bill Hanney's leadership and producing artistic director Evans Haile is the hit 1959 musical, "Gypsy" with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents based loosely on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist. The show is the musical biography of stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee and her mother, Rose. It is the classic musical fable about the definitive stage mother, Momma Rose. It follows the daughter's life from her early days in vaudeville with her sister, June Havoc to her successful career in burlesque. The star of this show is really her tyrannical mother, Rose and director picks TV and Broadway star Vicki Lewis, a multitalented, actress to fill this role played by Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone on stage and by Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler on film. Momma Rose pushes her two children into show business at any cost, to fulfill the dream of stardom she never achieved herself. "Gypsy" is a story of ambition, suppressed dreams and sacrifice. fills the show with many comic moments mixed with some poignant ones to flesh out this script, leading to much laughter and a few tears shed along the way, too. She, as Louise and as Herbie and their supporting cast fill this theatre with their vocal, acting and dancing skills to pull off this huge musical. NSMT audiences cheered these performers with a thunderous standing ovation at the curtain call. Bravo and welcome back. You were sorely missed.
Richard Sabellico (who I saw direct "Annie" at TBTS) directs, choreographs and blocks this huge cast wonderfully and the many scene changes are accomplished very quickly by the stage manager Gail Eve Malatesta and her crew with the show spanning 25 years. Richard supplies the moves for the younger children but works his magic with the farm boys and girls when they are transformed during a strobe light dance number as well as the tap dance steps, Charleston, soft shoe and strip numbers, too. These dances give the show an energetic boost to carry the musical numbers forward. Outstanding dance numbers include the Tulsa number, the Broadway section with top hats and canes, Louise's strip scenes, soft shoe dance by Rose and Herbie and the Toreadorables flag scene. Another humorous aspect of this show is that Rose uses the same music over and over again, changing the lyrics but keeping the same music. The fabulous music direction is by Nick DeGregorio who conducts a 14 piece orchestra. taught all the tongue twisting Stephen Sondheim lyrics and Jule Styne music to his talented vocalists. Kudos to the trumpet riffs by Richard Hammett, Tim Cote and Joe Pino. Gorgeous costumes by Jose Rivera with lighting by Jack Mehler and sound by James McCartney. Outstanding scenic design is by Campbell Baird with the chandeliers and the Rose logo as standouts.
Vicki Lewis delivers a tour-de-force performance as Rose, the stage mother of all stage mothers. She runs rough shod over her two daughters because she was never given the opportunity that they have. Rose explains the reason is her mother left her at a young age. Current day psychologists would have a field day with this real life woman. Her performance reminds you of Barbara Streisand in her heyday. Vicki's acting prowess is superb because she can have you laughing hysterically one minute and sobbing uncontrollably the next. Vicki's strong voice is heard in "Some People" where she decides to leave her home in Seattle and head to LA, the show stopping "Everything's Coming Up Roses" where she has a mini nervous breakdown when June elopes with Tulsa, the trio song "Together" where she realizes that she, Herbie and Louise have to depend on each other and her long soliloquy "Rose's Turn" which brings down the house with its power and punch. Vicki also handles the romantic duets with ease "Small World" when she first meets Herbie with the reprise bringing tears to your eyes in the second act when Herbie leaves her for letting Louise become a stripper as well as their soft shoe number "You'll Never Get Away from Me''. One of the funniest songs in the show is "Mr. Goldstone" where Rose and the kids sing to this booking agent who gets them on the Orpheum circuit as she throw props at him while the kids march around Mr. Goldstone. Vicki is terrific in this role, delivering the goods in a whirlwind of energy from her first entrance up the aisle with Chowsie, her dog to the final curtain where she and Catherine as Gypsy leave the stage arm in arm. Brava on a job extremely well done!
Playing the role of Louise who become Gypsy Rose Lee is Catherine Walker. She shows her acting prowess in the transition from shy teenager into a sophisticated young woman during the course of this show. Catherine's gorgeous voice is heard in the "If Momma Was Married" with June where they wish their mother would marry Herbie and leave them alone, "Together" trio with Rose and Herbie and solos in the most poignant song in the show, "Little Lamb" where she sings about not knowing how old she really is. She also shows the growth of the character into a more mature and confident ecdysiast during the "Let Me Entertain You" segment which became "Gypsy's signature number wherever she danced including Minsky's. She is dynamite in the confrontation scene with Vicki at the end of the second act. Kirby Ward who I first reviewed as Bobby Child at Reagle Players in 2005, plays the sympathetic role of Herbie, the booking agent who falls madly in love with Rose. His strong voice is heard in the romantic duets with Vicki and in the "Together" trio where he shows off his fabulous dancing skills. His best dramatic scenes are when he threatens Pastey with bodily harm when he swears in front of Rose and Louise in the burlesque theatre and when he finally stands up to Rose after years of putting up with her obsession of being a stage mother. Amanda Lea LaVergne who has a terrific voice and is a wonderful dancer plays the role of June with blonde banana curls. She sings and dances with the newsboys in "Caroline" which also has a comical dancing cow, and in "Broadway" where she realizes she can't leave Caroline, the cow after all, she does splits in these dance numbers. Amanda also shows off her powerful voice with Catherine in their duet, "If Momma Was Married" where they figure if Rose was married to Herbie, she'd leave them alone. She shows off her acting skills in this scene with Catherine, too. The singing and dancing younger June and Louise are well played by Sarah Safer and Hannah Piispanen. The boys do a superb military dance in the Uncle Sam section,Shane Braz, Leo Santoro and Harrison Gray.
The biggest scene stealers are the three strippers in the second act Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as the trumpet playing Mazeppa, Jan Neuberger as the twinkling Electra and Laurie Gamache as Tessie Tura, who was a former ballerina. They sing "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" which says you don't need to have any talent but these three ladies have lots of talent, dancing skills and singing voices. I last reviewed Jacquelyn as Fantine in Les Miz at NSMT in 2007. Laurie has many funny lines as Tessie and makes all of them hit paydirt. Jan plays Electra with sore feet, holding her shoes in her hands at one point and also plays Miss Cratchit in the first act and delivers a comic lines that will leave you roaring with laughter. Another excellent dance number is by Pearce Wegener as Tulsa. He uses his powerful baritone voice to sell "All I Need Now is the Girl" but it is Pearce's dancing prowess that will leave you most impressed. Another scene stealer in the second act is Diane Terrusa as Agnes, one of the Toreadorables who delivers her funny one liners with glee. Kudos to everyone connected to this topnotch musical which reopens the historical North Shore Music Theatre with a bang. Be sure to catch "Gypsy" before time runs out and welcome back.