GYPSYBook by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Director – Bill Sizemore
Musical Director – Mary Helen Atkins
Set Designer – Bill Sizemore
Lighting Designer – Bryan Douglas
Props Designer – Traci Clements
Costume Designer – Lauren Morgan
Choreography – Amy Parsons
Rose – Jenny Tucker
Dainty June – Anna Marie Boyd
Louise – Connie Marie Brown
Herbie – Robert Banks
Tulsa – Dustin Simington
Electra – Becca Brown
Tessie – Georgia Fender
Mazeppa – Cassie Martinez
Miss Cratchitt – Karen Matheny
Baby June – Dani Altshuler
Baby Louise – Mary Strauss
L.A. – Chris Ramirez
Yonkers/Newsboy – Brandon Shreve
Renee/Ensemble – Katy Hill
Angie – T. J. Little
George/Phil/Richman/Kringelein – Charles E. Beachley III
Pop/Goldstone/Pastey – David Plybon
Newsboys – Ashton Morales, Parker Niksich, Riley Niksich
Hollywood Blondes – Mikayla Anthony, Gabriella Garcia, Lynsey Hale, Tyler Vaden, Abigail Palmgren
Mary Helen Atkins – Piano
Kristin Martin McKinley – Keyboard
Nick Mercer – Percussion
Reviewed Performance: 8/1/2014
Reviewed by Larry Ukolowicz, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Even though Gypsy depicts a tigress mother with killer instincts, it also looks into a soul of repressed dreams and aspirations. This musical displays the distraught psychological heft of stardom and its effect on individuals and family. It’s not kid stuff.
The production by the Stolen Shakespeare Guild succeeds on several levels. They fear not to tread into the depths of Mama Rose’s world, a place that showcases whiplash wit, sacrificial offerings and believe it or not, love, as convoluted and unconventional as it appears.
Gypsy is a vintage vehicle giving the stage one of the most prolific, multi-layered, intoxicating and demanding female roles ever written, Mama Rose. She confuses fame with family and in her blindness accidentally kills vaudeville. There isn’t an actress alive that would not sell their eye teeth to play this part, to strut down that runway and belt out the killer finale “Rose’s Turn.” She has been played by some of the most incredible actresses of stage and screen, including Ethel Merman, Rosalind Russell, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Patti LuPone and one performer I had the distinct honor to see, Tyne Daly, in her Tony-winning performance.
June and Louise want one thing. They want Mama Rose to get married and settle down. They want a family life. When they sing “If Momma Was Married”, you see June and Louise physically displaying their inner thoughts with eyes of hope, each clinging to the other, and for the first time, you see them as the children they long to be. June and Louise give us, the audience, a chance to hope right along with them. Anne Marie Boyd, as June, and Connie Marie Brown, as Dainty Louise, give it to us straight from their hearts with wonderful harmony. I smiled as they held on to each other, supported each other and waltzed through the song with true conviction.
June, the youngest child, is the chosen one on whom Rose has pinned her highest ambitions and pushes the hardest. While Louise remains a little lost and lacking in confidence, June becomes obstinate and defiant. Anne Marie Boyd is wonderful in the part by physically staring down her mother and showing the beginning signs of a temper. When Mama Rose denies June an opportunity to become educated as a legitimate stage actress, Ms. Boyd displays the toughness in June with clenched fists, fire in the eyes and a lit cigarette. Even though it is a shock to Mama Rose when June disappears and leaves the act, it is no surprise to us, the audience.
Mama Rose’s love interest, Herbie, represents that first big hill on a roller coaster, steadily climbing all through the play, and it isn’t until the end that we see him finally reach the top of the hill and plummet down the other side. From agent to candy salesman to agent, Herbie is probably one of the most mentally, emotionally and spiritually tortured characters ever put on stage. Herbie, just like Mama Rose, will go to any length to make June and Louise a success. He will also go to any length to appease Mama Rose, no matter how many ulcers he grows.
Herbie is gorgeously played by Robert Banks. When Mama Rose destroys the happiness of a marriage proposal with one last attempt at stage success, it is at that moment that Herbie lets out the frustration of being run over by the speeding train named Mama Rose and stands up for himself and his dignity. We see Mr. Banks showing his kindness with soft voice and kind smile. But when it is time to leave, we see Mr. Banks show the frustration with red face and trembling fingers that point to Mama Rose in the final heated argument to end the relationship. I reveled in Mr. Banks’ facial technique as he showed defeat in tear-filled eyes and a smile turned downward into dismay and defeat. I admire actors who use very little to convey so much.
Dreams of stardom is lovingly and radiantly performed by Dustin Simington as Tulsa, one of the backup singers/dancers in the kids’ vaudeville act, delivering a wonderful performance with the song “All I Need is the Girl”. Mr. Simington is confident in step and strong in song as he shows Louise some mighty fine steps. Louise, at first dreaming of being his partner, is lured into the reality of the situation as she steps out of the fantasy and becomes his real-life dancing partner at the end of the song. Mr. Simington and Ms. Brown locked on to each other’s energy and gave the audience a thrill as they spun, tapped and bowed their way to a deserved long ovation.
Desperation leads to fortune as Mama Rose, in a last ditch effort, transforms lamb-loving daughter, Louise, who had never worn a dress before she was nineteen, into a star on the burlesque striptease stage. The kids’ tune “Let Me Entertain You,” used in countless vaudeville routines of astronomical awful proportions, becomes an anthem for Louise that catapults her to super-stardom as a burlesque headliner on the best theatrical stages.
When Louise looks in the mirror and realizes she is actually pretty is a moment to take a breath and try not to shed a tear. It’s a lovely moment and is beautifully played by Connie Marie Brown. That mesmerizing discovery transforms the waif into a hellion. Ms. Brown uses that look for the remainder of the show, the wide eyes, the big smile, and as far as the walk, it transforms from stumbles to struts, exposing confidence in each step.
The final confrontation between Louise and Mama Rose gives Louise center stage over Mama for the first and final time and it is at this moment that Mama realizes she is out of the picture as Gypsy’s manager and must take the back seat. Louise takes control of Gypsy forever. I commend director Bill Sizemore for keeping this battle honest and heartfelt. Ms. Brown stands strong, solid and sure, never losing focus on the intent to stop Mama Rose with dignity and poise.
Jenny Tucker is a Mama Rose of stellar excitement. She takes you on a guided tour of the inner demons, from sensual flirt to earthy negotiator. With a subtle smile, she becomes the vixen. With a ferocious stare, she becomes “The Terminator.” Her vocal delivery is strong, precise and masterful, from ballad to heart-pounding show stopper. When she began to sing “Rose’s Turn,” I was in goose-bump heaven, with her arms flailing, her voice quivering yet strong, her eyes glued to the audience, staring us down. The alter-ego was released and we all felt the power of Mama Rose through Ms. Tucker. With that jaunty walk, judgmental look and matter-of-fact attitude, Ms. Tucker uses all of it to convince us that no matter what happens, her Mama Rose would be around for a long time…come hell or high water! But “Rose’s Turn” is not only about power. It showcases the dreams, the wishes and the heartbreak of a woman who did not take the risk for herself. Louise says at the end, “you really could have been somethin’, mama.” Ms. Tucker, your Mama Rose truly was somethin’!
Director, Bill Sizemore gives us the Gypsy that the creators originally envisioned, a broad, show business entertainment represented by composer Jule Styne and the modern, dark, psychological drama typical of Stephen Sondheim. Mr. Sizemore chose substance over glitz. His direction was showcased with precisely staged musical numbers, especially Mama Rose’s two show-stoppers. His use of the stage evolved and revolved beautifully, including the vaudeville routines with June and Louise and “Madame Rose’s Toreadorables.” He exposed the heartbreaks and the accolades of theatre life through the eyes of Mama Rose in “Everything’s Coming up Roses.” He knew when a moment was meant to be quiet in book or song, especially in “Small World.” In short, in this production, as the creators intended, he chose comedy-drama over melodrama and gave us a show of richness, playfulness, humanity and loads of compassion.
Let me not forget Becca Brown, Georgia Fender and Cassie Martinez who gave some very funny moments as the striptease trio, brilliantly delivering the song “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” and bumping, grinding and dancing their way into comic heaven.
The adolescent Dainty June and Louise, played by Dani Altshuler and Mary Strauss, were impeccable and I was amazed how much they resembled the older June and Louise, making the transition from child to adult very believable.
The backup teams to Dainty June’s vaudeville routines, i.e. The Newsboys and The Hollywood Blondes were energetically and electrically-charged, giving us some very fine dancing and singing moments that made the laborious “Let Me Entertain You” bearable.
David Plybon, Marc Magen, and Charles E. Beachley III switched characters faster than a speeding bullet distinctly making each role new and exciting.
From the Overture to “Rose’s Turn”, Musical Director Mary Helen Atkins and orchestra performed with great vigor, and their bounce and fervor showed a great deal of love for the score as my foot tapped, my heart sang and my ears enjoyed. I especially admired the lilting and lovely music backup to “Small World” and the bubbly, perfect scoring of “Some People.” I must not forget the smile-induced “Mr. Goldstone, I Love you”. I felt the orchestra was having as much fun as the actors on stage during the number. I was delighted to see the actors, lead characters and chorus, sing each song with confidence. Having been in musicals, that confidence comes from trusting your musical director, and the way all performs sang, I felt the trust. It was wonderful.
The costumes by Lauren Morgan were deliciously right on the money. Life on the vaudeville road was tiresome and dreary and the costumes depicted the hardship with wonderful depression era coats, blouses and skirts. The cheesy vaudeville routines with June and Louise were costumed in sequined and crinoline madness. The three bump and grind strippers at the burlesque house were deliciously costumed in flowing, see through material of satin, lace, feathers and yes, even lights that lit with a touch of a button. When Louise becomes Gypsy, her dresses are satiny, sensual and seductively sultry, and show what success will bring. One of my favorite costume moments was when Mama Rose picked up a blanket and said, “That would make a nice coat”, and in the next scene she’s wearing it. (I just shook my head and snickered thinking, ‘Yup, that’s Mama Rose!’.)
I would like to thank Bill Sizemore for his set design, Bryan Douglas for his light design and Traci Clements for props design and don them the holy trinity. The set, as you enter the theatre, is completely bare. As each scene begins, doorways, desks and dressing tables are rolled in. The sets move in and out without a moment’s pause. The lights range from pink and bright for the kids’ vaudeville routines, to dark and brooding for the serious moments in the play such as the dismal life in Mama Rose’s dad’s house, and spot-light white to give Mama Rose a halo, if you will, around her entire body to belt out her two show stoppers at the end of Act One and Act Two. There were literally hundreds of props for actors from makeup to suitcases to batons to dinner plates and yes, even a functional trumpet used by one of the strippers. This show has a high demand for props and they were wonderfully supplied. From moving doorways on wheels to complete sets, to the bright lights of a stage production within a production, to the hand-held props available to actors at all times, it all worked to perfection. The holy trinity gave us a cavalcade of color, contrast and countenance and showed what collaboration is all about.
Choreographer Amy Parsons amazed me in one respect. This show has a large cast and Ms. Parsons was able to position them all on the small stage at one time with great ease. Also, when a cast is in unison and performs with great confidence, it is then I applaud the choreographer, especially when staging a show that requires so many forms of dance, from traditional to ballet to tap to freestyle and beyond. It was a job well done. I especially loved the staging of “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming up Roses”, and getting everyone on stage for the very fast-paced “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” was quite an accomplishment.
This musical is timeless. The book and music of Gypsy are flawless in presentation. The musical is a celebration of life, taking us to all levels, from hope-to-despair, from acceptance-to-rejection, from truth-to-illusion. In this production, each and every actor on the stage is a gifted singer and actor and uses their talents to the max adding to the greatness of Gypsy. Most importantly, it is being handled with care by Stolen Shakespeare Guild. Come…let them entertain you.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Plays through August 17th
Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday - Sunday at 2:00 pm
Evening ticket prices are $18.00, $17.00 for seniors 65 +,$16.00 for student w/ ID, and $10.00 for children 7 under (if available). Matinee tickets are $15.00 for all.
To purchase tickets go online at www.stolenshakespeareguild.org or call the box office at 1-866-811-4111.