Friday night I checked off another item on my Theatre Bucket List: I saw my first production of “Gypsy: a Musical Fable.” Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) is presenting it at the Studio Theatre in Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through September 30, 2012.
I didn’t know much about this 1959 musical going in, not even the basic plot, let alone anything about the gazillion revivals that I’ve read about since, so I’ll leave it to another reviewer to discuss how ATI’s production compares to others.
Instead I will say that I was delighted by the way this production honors the complexity of the characters and gives them a timeless relevancy.
What the Show Is About
“Gypsy” is about a fanatically driven vaudeville stage mom, Rose, who is so out of touch with her own needs and desires – and who has had so little support of any kind from her parents or her Depression Era world – that she sacrifices one of her two daughters completely to her misplaced ambition. She nearly drives away the other daughter as well. Again and again Rose makes the people around her miserable and sabotages her chances for love.
In Act One, Rose is a hard person to like, although you can’t help admiring her determination.
In Act Two, however, several things happen that cause both Rose and her remaining daughter, Louise, to change, both in their relationship to each other and as individuals.
It’s not all sweetness and light, and it is not as if every broken thing is fixed by the end of the show. There is still no guarantee of anyone living “happily ever after.”
But… you go home feeling empathy for both Rose and Louise, and you go home feeling good. I did, anyway. I felt respected because the show honors the fact that all family relationships are complex and some losses are permanent. And I felt uplifted because the show is a reminder that we don’t really know how anyone’s story, including our own, is going to end, no matter how predictable it may look on the surface or at any given point in time.
I was not surprised to learn after I got home and read my program that “Gypsy: a Musical Fable” is “suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee.” A quick Internet search reveals that Gypsy was an actual entertainer and quite famous in her time. (See www.GypsyRoseLee.net for some video clips of her on the TV show she had after her burlesque career.) She is Louise in this musical, and she apparently actually had a mother like Rose. (Yikes!)
Even if you have never heard of this musical, I bet you would recognize some of the songs from it, such as “Let Me Entertain You” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Together, Wherever We Go.”
Why This Production Is Worth Seeing
Every member of the cast is talented, but Judy Fitzgerald is astonishing as Rose: bossy, vulnerable, loving, spiteful, gorgeous, nuts… I stood to applaud her nuanced portrayal of this iconic role.
I also loved the other two leads. Gracia Gillund gives ugly duckling daughter Louise a survivor’s strength and sensitivity that make her surprising transformation into gutsy yet elegant Gypsy Rose Lee believable and satisfying. Paul Hansen’s portrayal of Herbie – the act’s kind, ulcer-prone agent and Rose’s would-be husband – is a heartbreaker, doubly so because the chemistry between Rose and Herbie is so good!
When Cynthia Collins, Holly Stults, and director/choreographer Carol Worcel are on stage as burlesque dancers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra, respectively, they steal the show. Hilarious and sexy, their pragmatic enthusiasm for burlesque is contagious. I confess they got me thinking about what my “gimmick” would be and whether costume designer Jay Emrich would create something eye-popping for my burlesque debut, too.
Alexandra Young is like hardened frosting – i.e., just right – as teenager Dainty June, the never-allowed-to-grow-up “child” star of Rose’s kiddie vaudeville act and Louise’s sister.
Jeff Stockberger and Adam O. Crowe are funny and admirable because they each convincingly delineate four or five different men with only a few moments or lines in which to do so.
The adult Newsboys (Cameron Bartell as dancing dreamer Tulsa, plus Nicholas Rogers as L. A. and David Michael Cress as Yonkers) and the adult Hollywood Blondes (Emma Weber as Agnes/Amanda/Agnes, Elaine Ortyl as Marjorie May and Rachel Ornstein as Dolores) are all fun to watch.
The child performers, including Delaney H. Jackson as Baby June, Delaney McNamar as Baby Louise, Alex Hughes as Alex & His Accordion, Olivia McKenna as Balloon Girl, and Alex Hughes, Eli Bush, and Noah Joseph Bush, as Newsboy #1, #2, and #3, respectively, are all fun to watch, too.
Bernie Killigan’s set is intriguing even before the nonexistent curtain “goes up.” Everything – every set piece, every item created by props artisan Katie Rae – for the show is on stage from the beginning, tucked into its own little nook or cranny ready to be pulled out and placed when the time comes. It is as if no matter what is going on downstage in the narration of the story, we are also always backstage in one of the venues Rose is always dragging her girls to for auditions and/or performances. I happened to see Bernie at intermission. I asked him if “Gypsy” was always designed this way or if this was his own idea. He said it was unique to this production, that the intimacy of the Studio Theatre space required it. I admire his creativity in making it work so well!
The company orchestra is tucked onto their own little platform on stage, too. Music director Kevin D. Smith is on piano, with Greg Wolff on percussion, Steve Stickler on wind reeds, Scott Whitford on brass, and Greg Gegogeine on bass. They all sound good.
Gary Demumbrum’s lighting design is clever in the ways that it enhances the various moods of the show and indicates the passage of time.
Remember that Actors Theatre of Indiana offers Wednesday night performances as well as Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night performances and Sunday matinees.
For more information about ATI and their whole season, you can go to ATI’s website: http://www.actorstheatreofindiana.org/.
To buy tickets online, you can go directly to the Center for the Performing Arts’ website: http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org/index.aspx. You will have to pay SIX DOLLARS to buy your tickets online, which usually makes me shout “highway robbery!” and refuse to pay it, and take my chances in person the night of the show. However, you may feel it’s worth it to pay six dollars in order to be able to conveniently get the seats you want and print out your own ticket, which is okay, too.
‘See you at the theatres!
Other credits for “Gypsy: a Musical Fable:”
Music: Jule Styne
Book: Arthur Laurents
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Stage Manager: James W. Carringer
Assistant Stage Manager: Beth Knight-Crum
Audio Engineer: Christopher Strange
Child Wrangler: Katie Rae
Master Electrician: David Lapham
Sound Operator: Jeremy Cales
Light Operator: Judy Smith
Spot Operator: Doris Schwandt
Company Photographer: Julie Curry
Assistant to the Costume Designer: Margaret Ozemet
Dance Captain: Cynthia Collins
Photo above is of Judy Fitzgerald as Rose and was taken by Julie Curry. Used here with permission from Actors’ Theatre of Indiana.
© 2012 Hope Baugh