The opening show of The Community Players of Pawtucket's 88th season is the hit 1959 musical, "Gypsy". The show is the musical biography of stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee and her mother, Rose. It follows her life from her early days in vaudeville with her sister, June Havoc to her successful career in burlesque. The star of the show is really her tyrannical mother, Rose and director/choreographer Bill Whitehead Jr. picks Catherine R. Fox, 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. (Bill fills the show with many comic moments mixed with some poignant ones to flesh out the script, leading to much laughter and a few tears shed along the way, too.) She, Jennifer Mischley as Louise and Greg Geer as Herbie and their supporting cast fill the theatre with their vocal, acting and dancing skills to pull off this huge musical and they are rewarded with an astounding standing ovation at the end of the show. Bravo.
Bill directs, blocks and choreographs his very large cast wonderfully and the many scene changes by stage manager, Lacey Trepanier and her hard working crew are accomplished quickly, keeping the show moving quickly from one scene to the next. Brian Mulvey, Victor Turenne and their hard working crew built this set with many set pieces for the multitude of scenes throughout a 25 year span. (Brian and Bill painted the intricate scenery with an expert eye for detail.) Bill also supplies the needed dance moves for the younger children but he works his magic with the older group of 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, Louise's strip scenes, soft shoe moves by Rose and Herbie and the funny Toreadorables flag scene. (Another humorous aspect of the show is every time Rose changes the act, it somehow remains the same with different lyrics but the same melodies.) The topnotch music direction is by Esther Zabinski who also plays the piano for the show. She taught all the tongue twisting Stephen Sondheim lyrics and Jule Styne music to her talented vocalists. The trumpet riffs are handled by Mario Borges and Dennis Martel. (Esther's parents are on the other keyboards and she is always happy when they bake her brownies.) The many authentic costumes of the early twenties and thirties are by Marcia Zammarelli. (She has an excellent eye for detail and most impressive are Rose's many outfits and Louise's gowns for the strip number. The colors are very flattering to Jen in this scene.) The lights and sound are handled by Dan Fisher who did the same thing this summer at Theatre by the Sea. His eye catching lit up signs include the Gypsy logo and Rose for the final show stopping number. Kudos to Bill and his staff for making this a fantastic show.
Cathy gives a tour-de-force performance as Rose, the stage mother of all stage mothers. She runs rough shod over her girls because she was never given the opportunity that they have because her mother left her at a young age. (Psychologists would have had a field day with this real life woman.) Her performance reminds you of Ethel Merman in her heyday. Cathy's acting prowess far surpasses Ethel's because she can have you laughing hysterically one minute and crying uncontrollably the next. Her strong belting voice is used 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 she, Herbie and Louise have to help each other out and long soliloquy that closes the show called "Rose's Turn" which brings down the house with it's power and punch. She handles the romantic duets with ease "Small World" when she first meets Herbie (the reprise of this song is a tear jerker when Herbie leaves Rose in the second act when she lets Louise become a stripper) and "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 onto the Orpheum circuit. (They all throw props while marching around the room onto Mr. Goldstone comically played by veteran actor, Lee Hakeem.) Cathy is superb in this role, delivering the goods in a whirlwind of energy from her first entrance to the final curtain.(Cathy is an expert comedienne who I directed in "The Female Odd Couple" in 1994)
Playing the role of Louise who becomes Gypsy Rose Lee is Jennifer Mischley who I first met when we performed in "The Fantasticks" together in 1996. Throughout the years I have seen her grow as an actress and vocalist with this role as another feather in her cap. The transition from shy teenager into a sophisticated young woman during the course of this show. Jen sings the trio song with Cathy and Greg and solos in the most poignant number in the show, "Little Lamb" about not knowing how old she really is. (Her gorgeous soprano voice soars in this number.) She also grows into a more mature and confident ecdysiast during the "Let Me Entertain You" which became Gypsy's signature number wherever she danced including Minsky's. Brava! Greg Geer who I have know since I was in "Man of La Mancha" with him in 1990 in Newport, plays the sympathetic role of Herbie, the booking agent who falls madly in love with Rose. His strong baritone voice is heard in the romantic duets with Cathy and in the "Together" trio. His best acting 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. Great seeing him back onstage after a few years hiatus. Manon Yoder Kreider who is a wonderful dancer and a RIC student plays the role of June complete with her own blonde banana curls. She sings and dances with the Newsboys in "Caroline" with a wonderful dancing cow and in "Broadway" where she realizes she can't leave Caroline after all, as well as the strong duet with Jen called "If Momma Was Married" where they figure if Rose was married that she'd leave them alone. Manon does splits in these numbers while showing off her powerful voice. The singing and dancing young June and young Louise are well played by Margaux Fontaine and Emily Boss are the young Newsboys played by McKai Amour Holston, Shawn Contente and Jaret T. West.
One of the scene stealing numbers in this show is the stripper song called "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" which says you don't need to have any talent but these three ladies have supreme talent, dance skills and singing voices. They are Eve Marie Webster as Electra, the twinkling stripper, Pam Sheiber Shapiro as the trumpet playing stripper and Taryn Mallard-Reid (who stepped into this role a week before opening performing it perfectly) as Tessie Tura who was a former ballerina. They are hilarious and have to be seen to be thoroughly enjoyed. Taryn has many funny lines in this show as does Tracie Finan as the bitchy secretary complete with padded butt in the first act. Another excellent dance number is by recent RIC graduate Albert Jennings who plays Tulsa. He uses his strong singing voice to sell "All I Need is the Girl" but it is his dancing prowess during it that will leave you most impressed. He and the other farm boys Michael Maio as Yonkers, Tom Lavallee (who I directed in "Bedside Manners" in Newport) as Angie, Cameron Marcotte as L.A. and Stephen Pare ( a recent graduate of Barry University in Miami) as Dallas sound and look great in their singing and dancing numbers. Dalita Getzoyan does a nice turn as the naive Hollywood Blonde wanna be actress Agnes who wants to be known as Amanda. Ed Mastriano and Andrew Bobola who has lost a great deal of weight, play multiple roles in this show, making each one of them different from the others. Kudos to everyone connected to this topnotch show. So for a successful production of "Gypsy" catch it in Pawtucket for the next three weeks, there is no need to head to Broadway with this talented cast.