Through October 9|
GYPSY MusicalFare Theatre/Daemen College
By Augustine Warner
“Gypsy” is one of those classic shows, on stage constantly and on the big screen.
The difficulty is that it’s hard to cast, because it needs singers and dancers and, most notably, it needs Mama Rose.
She’s the ultimate stage mother, a woman who sees herself as the ultimate arbiter of what’s good for her two daughters from three marriages and will do anything to make reality meet her dreams and she dreams, a lot.
You need someone who is brassy, malevolent, forceful and who can sing and dance.
For the MusicalFare production, that’s Loraine O’Donnell.
It’s a good choice in a strong production.
“Gypsy” also requires a strong cast and a large cast, almost all of whom have to be very strong dancers because that’s what the show is about, dancers, a vaudeville road act built around Mama Rose’s daughter, June (Arianne Davidow).
She ignores daughter Louise (Marina Laurendi) because June is the focus.
That’s until June as, perhaps, a late teen, runs away with another dancer she has married.
Suddenly, Louise is Mama Rose’s focus and she really isn’t a simulacrum of June.
Eventually, she bolts away from Mama Rose to become stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, over her mother’s objections.
Director Chris Kelly focuses the story on stage, on a nice backstage set from Chris Schenk.
Even hotel room scenes are set up on the play’s backstage so that the story never leaves the world of the theater.
“Gypsy” when June is three and the lead in a second-rate act working fraternal houses in Seattle and desperate to abandon the life for the open road and the big stages of the Orpheum Circuit.
It’s essential to the show that the act is bad and doesn’t get any better as the cast grows up along the vaudeville circuit.
Along for the ride is John Fredo’s Herbie who is desperately in love with Mama Rose and wants to marry here while she uses him as a tool for the successive and changing acts.
It’s a relationship damaged and eventually destroyed by Mama Rose’s obsessions.
Mama Rose? She never notices any problems and sees conspirators around her, damaging her dreams.
Some of the best scenes in the show are in the burlesque house which is the pits for the latest iteration of the act, with Electra (Michele Marie Roberts), Mazeppa (Maria Droz) and Tessie (Charmagne Chi), who are the downmarket stippers in the theater who are wearing costumes Louise has made.
Deep in the Depression, they have made the choices they need to make to survive and they offer an example to Louise of an alternative life path.
That’s where she goes, high end stripping where she never quite gets her fancy dresses off.
Today Child Protective Services would probably be called in to probe this woman who mistreats her own children, cheats her employees and doesn’t send anyone to school.
Director Kelly has some strong dancers to work with and good work from choreographer Bobby Cooke.
The best single dancing number is Jonas Barranca’s Tulsa showing June what he wants to do in a team with her, “All I Need is the Girl.”
While O'Donnell dominates the show, there is the usual strong work from Fredo, Davidow's adult June, Laurendi's adult Louise and the overall ensemble.
The show has a number of really strong production numbers, to make the best use of the cash, like “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” for the strippers explaining their work to Rose and the team praising the theater booker who has given them a job in “Mr. Goldstone” to the apotheosis of the stage mother, “Rose’s Turn.”
“Gypsy” is often painful, perhaps because you can see some mother or some business operator who treats people badly in Mama Rose and the effect on families.
At the same time, you can see the amazing work of Broadway legends, book writer Arthur Laurents, musician Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
That’s why “Gypsy” is so much worth seeing, a painful, well-done look at a human wrecking ball damaging lives.
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