“Gypsy” at Music Theatre of Connecticut, Norwalk

    ---Irene Backalenick

“Gypsy” is often considered to be the finest musical ever written. At the very least, in this critic’s view, it is endearing, delicious. And no wonder, with its Stephen Sondheim lyrics, Jule Styne music, and Arthur Laurents book! Moreover, it is based on the real-life story of a stage mother and her two daughters (who would go on to become actress June Havoc and burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee). In fact, the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee provide the source material.

But now the Music Theatre of Connecticut courageously offers a different take on this classic. “Gypsy” has been tailored to MTC’s relatively small stage. Though MTC has moved to quarters more spacious than its original pocket-size stage in Westport, it is still limited in size, more like an off-Broadway house.

But director Kevin Connors faces the challenge bravely, and the result is an intimate, moving interpretation to a blockbuster show.

The story begins with the girls’ mother, Rose, creating a corny children’s show and peddling it around the Orpheum circuit. Rose is fiercely determined to make “Baby June” her star, while pushing her other daughter, Louise, into the background. Rose’s long-suffering boy friend Herbie, former candy salesman, becomes the troupe’s agent, and manages bookings here and there. No one is happy with this life except Rose, who demands her children, however reluctant, live out her dream.

The show is rather slow getting off the ground, with the children’s early scenes somewhat awkward, but gathers strength and intensity as it progresses. And from the moment Kirsti Carnahan, as Rose, appears on stage, the show explodes. It is her fire and fiber which gives this “Gypsy” its strength. Though Rose moves on a single track (her baby’s stardom), Carnahan gives a range to her performance. There are tender love scenes with Herbie, and Paul Binotto, in that role, is vulnerable, heart-warming. Carissa Massaro and Kate Simone (as the grown-up June and Louise respectively) both give strong performances. And Joe Grandy, as Tulsa, with high skills as a dancer, further enhances the show.

There’s much more to this show-biz story, but we won’t reveal the plot’s resolution. See it for yourself. “Gypsy” plays until September 25.

 


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