Directed by Len Pguger
Musical Director and Conductor - Jay Dias
Scenic Design - Michael Anania
Lighting Design - Julie N. Simmons
Original Costume Design - Martin Pakledinaz
Costume Recreation - Drenda Lewis
Stage Manager - Margaret J. Soch
Sue Mathys - Rose
Mary McElree - Louise
Sonny Franks - Herbie
Ashton Smalling - June
Taylor Hennings - Baby Louise
Kristin Wright - Baby June
Thomas Christopher Renner - Yonkers
Michael Whitney - Tulsa
Caitlin Carter - Tessie Tura
Sara Shelby-Martin - Mazeppa
Shannon McGrann - Electra
Reviewed Performance 9/10/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
There are many shows that are a production hallmark for a theater, or a rite of passage that the successful production elevates the venue status to a new level. Gypsy, a vehicle for a powerful diva, is such a show, incredibly demanding both in acting and singing. Just attempting such a show is a guarantee to bring avid theater-goers into the house who will have very divisive responses, comparing the production and stars to famous ones from the past. It is almost a trap to accept a role made famous by another when these inevitable comparisons will be made.
However, Lyric Stage in recent productions has grown in quality, artistic ambition and execution of such shows. Additionally, they seek to honor the original intentions of the artistic team, in this case, the original score, choreography, offstage music and many other things that are sure to please the purists. While Gypsy may be produced in other places, few theaters in DFW would do so with the integrity of the Lyric Stage.
For those unfamiliar with Gypsy, it is an important piece of American Musical Theatre history, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. With music arrangement by John Kander and original choreography by Jerome Robbins, it certainly would have been a powerful piece, even before adding the likes of Ethel Merman in the leading role. There are of course the awards, film adaptation, and numerous revivals, both here and abroad. Simply put (and up for debate), the story centers around a mother, Rose, as she struggles against the odds to raise her daughters to be vaudeville stars as the industry dies during the Great Depression.
The music for this production is glorious. From the sharply and lovingly conducted overture it is obvious that the score will be beautifully executed. Music Director and Conductor Jay Dias delivers with a beautiful orchestra. This alone is a reason to attend the production, the entire group of musicians excels with a unity that prevents any single section from being singled out. While there may have been a tempo speed bump here and there, Dias drives the show along, and even scene change music keeps the energy up and alert. Michael Anania?s scenic design is a wagon-based one with furniture accents and lots of backdrops.
Kudos to Stage Manager Margaret J. Soch for her smooth and seamless scene changes. The rented wagons are period appropriate in detail, and though a little worn, clearly and convincingly establish the locations. The units rarely fill the stage, requiring performers to enter through dead spots, but Julie N. Simmons? light design takes that into account and lights only the needed areas. The sunset backdrop at the end of Act I is particularly well lit, blending in the scenic elements and keeping the focus on the cast.
Martin Pakledinaz?s costumes created for the 2008 Broadway revival have been recreated/coordinated here by Drenda Lewis. The pieces range from casual attire to impressive period show costumes as well as daily wear. Everyone looks good, and Dainty June?s blue dress is a nice featured piece.
Director Len Pfluger keeps the show moving and has staged the show appropriately for the space and scenic elements. The choreographed portions are engaging and sadly too few. Pfluger is able to get solid performances out of children, adults, and even a well-behaved live animal.
Everything hangs on the shoulders of Sue Mathys. As the overbearing Rose, Mathys navigates the scenes and songs with seeming ease. Everything sits well in her voice, and she is engaged with her fellow cast members. However, Mathys seems to be playing it safe to make the character her own, and avoids choices that would define Rose more. This results in a performance that holds the show together but does not garner an audience response for her final number ?Rose?s Turn?.
There?s not much fodder in performance to debate why Rose does things, she just does, leaving folks to discuss connotation of lines instead of physical execution. For example, in an early scene she steals a golden plaque to hock for start up funds for the act. The financial need is explained in the lines, but does Rose feel any regret? Does she simply not care about stealing from her family? Is she that motivated, at all costs? It?s hard to say.
Sonny Franks as Herbie delivers a heartfelt performance. Herbie is Rose?s business partner and love interest. Constantly frustrated with her antics, why does Herbie stay with Rose for so long when she is so delusional or over-ambitious? Franks? humble and hen-pecked Herbie strives to hold things together in a world that is falling apart. Franks brings a vulnerability to Herbie that is moving.
As Baby Louise and Baby June, Taylor Hennings and Kristin Wright are cute in ?May We Entertain You?, a number that sets up the nonstop tour for their act. The girls can sing, dance, and act.
The adult ?boys? make a nice ensemble, full of period ?aww shucks? and great harmony in song. Thomas Christopher Renner is well cast and holds the group together as Yonkers. Likewise, Tulsa, played by Michael Whitney, delivers solidly in ?All I Need is a Girl?, both vocally and dance-wise. The number is a workout.
The first moment of the show that really pops is the duet between Louise and June, Mary McElree and Ashton Smalling, in ?If Momma Were Married?. The frustrated sisters vent about how they feel about their mother, their act and their current situation. There is great chemistry between the sisters which also exists in their individual performances as well. Vocally these two are delightful together and create the first shivers of excitement.
Lastly, the comedic highlight of Act II is clearly ?You Gotta Get a Gimmick? brassily and boldly delivered by burlesque performers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra, otherwise known as Caitlin Carter, Sara Shelby-Martin, and Shannon McGrann. These ladies are clearly having fun and sadly come and go too quickly.
Lyric?s Gypsy is worth attending. There is not likely to be a production of this caliber around anytime soon.
Lyric Stage at Irving Arts Center?s Dupree Theater
3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving, TX 75062
Runs through September 18th
Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $25-$50 and can be purchased online at lyricstage.org or by calling 972-252-2787.