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A CurtainUp Review

Curtain Up! -- Gypsy Rose Lee

Julie Martell as Louise (Gypsy) in Gypsy (Photo: Andrée Lanthier)
It takes more than a bit of professional courage to play Momma Rose in a production of Gypsy. Inevitably most everyone in the audience will be thinking of Ethel Merman when the first notes of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" are heard. After all, the role was created for Merman to play when the show debuted on Broadway back in 1959. Since then many of Gypsy's tunes have become musical icons, and the role of Momma Rose as the hyper-ambitious force behind Gypsy Rose Lee is now something of a legend.

The musical's genesis came about when playwright Arthur Laurents was convinced to adapt the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's rather imaginative memoirs for the stage. Laurents quickly realized that the real story was not that of Lee, but of her mother Rose. An aspiring actress who blamed her failures on the fact that she was "born too soon and started too late," Mamma Rose sought glory-by-proxy in the Vaudeville careers of her daughters. When youngest daughter Louise finally makes it in the tawdry world of burlesque, Momma Rose is all too happy to come along for the ride.

There is of course a bit more to the Gypsy story than that of a mother who prods her daughter towards stardom. We witness the decline of Vaudeville in the twenties and we're given a glimpse into the misery of life that beset America during the dustbowl thirties. Finally, as Gypsy's career ascends we see burlesque emerge as the progenitor of commercial sexual tantilization. All the while, we're treated to the familiar Broadway tunes by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim that have endowed Gypsy with its enduring appeal.

When I saw Gypsy during a matinee in July, Kate Henning substituted for Nora McLellan in the role of Rose. With more than a bit of Merman psychologically imprinted on my brain, I went to the show with some trepidation about seeing a substitute in the critical main role. I needn't have worried. Henning was superb. Her singing was excellent, and she delivered just the right amount of machismo that the role requires. Henning is playing Rose for four productions a month during the remainder of the season.

In simple terms, the Shaw's 2005 version of Gypsy is splendid. The familiar musical numbers and choreography are all well done, and everyone in the large cast delivers a strong performance. Particularly in a production replete with children on stage, one almost expects to detect a flaw or two, but none of that was in evidence during the Gypsy that I witnessed. All of the children delivered superlative performances, and director Jackie Maxwell deserves extra kudos for making that happen.

Be prepared to wade your way through busloads of arriving theatregoers if you attend a performance of Gypsy. The show is proving to be immensely attractive to theatre tour operators, and it's unlikely that there will be many empty seats at any performance. Given the audience's enthusiastic response at the matinee that I attended, I imagine that Gypsy will prove to be the most popular show in the current Shaw season.

For an introductory feature about the festival go here.

Book by Arthur Laurents based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Cast: Neil Barclay (Cigar, George), Alexandra Beaton (Baby June), Michaela Bekenn (Baby June), Anthony Bekenn (Kringelein), Jessica Benevides (Baby Louise), Katie Cambone-Mannell (Balloon Girl), Cathy Current (Dolores, Renee), Kevin Dennis (Pastey), Elodie Gillett (Thelma), Kate Henning (Miss Cratchitt, Rose alternate), Jessie Hernder (Balloon Girl), Lisa Horner (Tessie Tura), Nigel Inneo (Ricky, newsboy), Jeff Irving (Yonkers), Gabrielle Jones (Mazeppa), Chilina Kennedy (Agnes), Jeff Lillico (Tulsa), Trish Lindstrom (June), Julie Martell (Louise), Zachary Murphy (newsboy), Melissa Peters (Baby Louise), Michael Querin (Bourgeron-Cochon), Alex Race (newsboy), Kiera Sangster (Marjorie May), Jacob Stokl (Ricky, newsboy), Sam Strasfeld (L.A.), Patricia Vanstone (Electra, Miss Cratchitt alternate), William Vickers (Mr. Goldstone, Phil, Uncle Jocko), Darren Voros (Angie).
Set Design: Peter Hartwell.
Costume Design: Judith Bowden.
Lighting Design: Kevin Lamotte.
Sound Design: Peter McBoyle.
Musical Direction: Paul Sportelli.
Choreography: Valerie Moore.
Musical Numbers: Overture, Let Me Entertain You, Some People, Small World, Mr. Goldstone, Little Lamb, You'll Never Get Away From Me, Farm Sequence/Broadway, If Momma Was Married, All I Need Is The Girl, Everything's Coming Up Roses, Toreadorables, Together Wherever We Go, You Gotta Get A Gimmick, Rose's Turn.
Running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes, with intermission.
Festival Theatre, 10 Queen's Parade Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, 800.511.7429 or 905-468-2172,
From 4/12/05 to 10/30/05.
Tuesday - Sunday at 2 or 8 pm; performance dates and times vary. Follow this link for current schedules and to order tickets online.
Tickets: Weekdays C$69.00, C$59.00, C$49.00, Under 30 C$30.00; Under 18 C$34.50, C$29.50, C$24.50; Weekends C$82.00, C$69.00, C$59.00, Under 30 C$30.00; Under 18 C$41.00, C$34.50, C$29.50; Sunday Evenings C$50.00, C$42.00.
Reviewed by James W. Moore based on July 6th performance.
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