note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Spiro Veloudos is stepping down at the Publick Theatre and his last show in the outdoors theater is the boisterous Arthur Laurents musical, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Although the show is ostensibly the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, it's really about Gypsy's mother.
Mama Rose is a director's worst nightmare: This quintessential stage mother pushes her children to perform and then bullies everyone else into submission. You need someone for Mama Rose who can fill the stage, and the Publick is lucky to have Maryann Zschau who did just that --- despite an injury, sustained the night before while executing a split, and a system full of pain medication. Zschau has the charisma, the spunk and the comic timing to make you admire if not adore this interfering, overbearing harridan. As soon as Zschau goes after a pint-sized rival scene-stealer, threatening to pop her balloons (literally and figuratively) she's won your heart.
Just like Tevye, Mama is always quoting chapter and verse...and her prophesies come true, although in ways she never anticipated. The Publick production has a slew of delightful cameos --- namely Kirsten Palson as a stuffy secretary and a chorine; Joe Siriani as grandpa and later as a seedy stage manager in a strip joint; Geoffrey Burns as myriad grumpy producers --- and solid acting from Frank Gayton as Mama's rock of Gibraltar (Their duet "Small World" is charming!) and from Jennifer Beth Glick as Dainty June, and Laura Schweitzer as shy Louise. Ands of course the strippers manage to steal the show: Eileen Nugent gets to play the ditsy blonde, Jennifer Valentine gets mega wattage from the naughty headlight costume designed by Gail Astrid Buckley and Robert Russo, and Ellen Peterson struts and blows her trumpet like a pro. Jonathan Goldberg's musical direction is bright and punchy and the orchestra sounds crisp and brassy despite damp weather that can warp an instrument in minutes.
Ilyse Robbins' winning choreography is especially endearing in the "Together" number and appropriately showy for Brad Evans' tap solo. Will Cohen and Matthew Sousourian, too, get to show off in the vaudeville scenes. Samantha Goober is adorable as the insufferable Baby June, as are all the youngsters who cavort in the audition that starts the musical. Laurents' script has bite as well as laughs and Veloudos mines the heartbreak as well as the fun. As soon as Zschau is back 100 per cent, it'll all be coming up roses.