For the opening of their 60th anniversary season the Goodspeed Opera House has selected “Gypsy”, considered one of the greatest stage musicals of all time. The Arthur Laurents/Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim classic, suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, is a pretty comfortable fit at the East Haddam playhouse.
By most accounts, Gypsy Rose Lee was the daughter of one of the most aggressive and demanding stage mothers of all time. Rose (a dynamic Judy McLane) sees absolutely no barriers in her pursuit of fame and fortune first for her eldest daughter, Baby June (Emily Jewel Hoder) and then for the younger Louise (Talia Suskauer). She creates and directs cheesy vaudeville acts for both girls and proceeds to drag them from grange halls to dingy cabarets across the country picking up an agent, the amiable Herbie (Philip Hernandez), along the way. When older June (Laura Sky Herman) finally breaks free of her mother’s grasp, Rose turns her attention fully to Louise determined to push her to a stage career she doesn’t really want.
“Gypsy” still works beautifully with its powerful, funny and ultimately moving story of a monster mom who has her own vulnerability and doubts. This is primarily Rose’s story and McLane does not disappoint especially in the acting department. When June leaves her, there is nothing more terrifying than when McLane slowly turns her attention to Louise. Physically, McLane is small, wiry and tough. Her Rose looks like she’s missed a few meals and survived, scrappy as hell and ready to take on the world. Her rendition of the titanic showstoppers “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” may strain for notes at times, but the passion and meaning behind the songs is always crystal clear.
One of my favorite parts of this fairly wonderful production of “Gypsy” is the pairing of Herman and Suskauer singing in glorious perfect harmony the heartfelt and hilarious, “If Mama Was Married”. And speaking of hilarious, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bawdy stripper anthem, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”, any funnier or better performed than it is here by Romelda Teron Benjamin, Valerie Wright and Victoria Huston-Elem. The large company of actors, under the crack direction of Jenn Thompson, also includes a terrific contribution from Michael Starr’s Tulsa who performs a blissfully sung and danced rendition of “All I Need Is A Girl” before running off with June.
Patricia Wilcox’s choreography shines in tandem with that great score delivered handily by music director Adam Souza and an outstanding orchestra. Alexander Dodge’s limited scenic design pushes just about all the action downstage not revealing much of the upstage area until late in the evening during “Rose’s Turn”. Eduardo Sicangco’s costumes, however, give a vivid cross-section of periods and styles and his selections for the “Gimmick” number are simply priceless. In most aspects, this “Gypsy” looks like a winner for Goodspeed. Happy anniversary!
“Gypsy” has already been extended at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street in East Haddam through Sunday, June 25. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.