PARK CITY — I have long been under the impression that Gypsy is one of those musicals that appeals largely to theatre people who can understand its showbiz heartbreak overtones on an intimate level, but the production of this iconic musical at the Egyptian Theater made me realize that Gypsy is applicable to everyone.
Gypsy was written in 1959 by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, and Stephen Sondheim, and is considered one of the last great musicals of the Golden Age. It features an over-involved stage mother, Rose, who literally dreams up vaudeville acts for her daughters, June and Louise. As the years go by, their family grows to include Herbie (the candy salesman turned manager), several orphaned boys named for the cities they were found in, and an eclectic herd of animals. Rose is intent on making the juvenile act succeed, heedless of the fact that her performers have outgrown it. When June, the star performer and Rose’s favorite daughter, elopes with one of the orphan boys, the act falls apart and Rose is devastated. She turns her attentions to Louise, who reluctantly agrees to star in the new act, and who eventually becomes the famous stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee.
This almost true story turns out to be more than a tale of theatrical failure. As illustrated by the Dark Horse Theatre Company, it also explores the themes of struggling relationships, loyalty, and personal success. Director Tracy Callahan seemed to have a good grasp of these concepts and did a wonderful job of conveying them to the audience. The production was enjoyable and energetic, if a little uneven; some of the characters and some of the scenes were richly detailed, while others felt neglected and lackluster.
The ensemble members in this show were great. They were always present in the world of the story and they always had something to contribute to the moment. This show really lived and breathed when the ensemble was on stage. The three strippers (played by Rebecca Joy Raboy, Karli Lowry, and Lisa Grow) were fantastic. Their song “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” was one of the comedic highlights of the evening. Angie (Jeremy Heaps), L.A. (Gregory Neff), Yonkers (Spenst Hansen), and Tulsa (Taylor Wuerth) conveyed a charming and genuine camaraderie in their scenes as Rose’s dancing troupe. Steven Williams and Kurt Christensen each played a number of roles, popping in whenever a male bit part was called for. I’m not sure whether this is written into the script, but I found it distracting. Williams and Christensen were competent as actors, but I didn’t feel that there was enough of a shift between characters for this to work.
Baby June (Emily Terran) was hysterically funny and was very 3-dimensional, especially for such a small part. (Watch her whenever Rose speaks– you won’t be sorry.) Ally Ioannides was sweet as the insecure but affectionate Baby Louise. I felt particularly connected to her during her scene with Pop and Rose. Elise Groves was delightfully obnoxious as Dainty June in her washed up vaudeville act, but I had a hard time believing her when she was upset about her mother’s meddling. She was, however, brilliant alongside Louise in “If Momma Was Married.” The two had lovely sisterly chemistry.
Herbie (Jonathan McBride) had some really great moments in this show. McBride played an even-tempered, cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy, the perfect foil to Teresa Sanderson’s frantic Rose. While I appreciated his easygoing charm, McBride’s best moment was when he threatened the stage manger and told him to talk “like a Sunday school teacher” in front of the ladies. It was so human. I would have liked to have seen more of that in the rest of his performance.
The character of Rose has the unfortunate position of being the bad guy and the main character. It is a fate that befell many of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, and as I learned from studying said tragedies, it requires a careful balance of unpleasantness and lovability in order to gain sympathy from the audience. Alas, Teresa Sanderson did not achieve this balance. I didn’t feel that Sanderson was overtly mean, but she was, as I said, frantic, and there wasn’t enough goodness in her character to endear me to Rose. Since I didn’t love her, I couldn’t understand why Herbie or even Louise loved her. I felt that “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” and “Rose’s Turn” came from a real place within Sanderson, but I couldn’t quite get behind those songs because I didn’t quite believe her.
Gypsy at the Egyptian Theater exhibited a slew of talented singers and actors, but none of them shone as brightly as Lauren Noll. Noll, who played Louise, was incredible. I’ll admit that her rendition of “Little Lamb,” while beautiful, had me worried about her timidity, but by the end of the show it made perfect sense to me. Her transformation from the reserved, obliging Louise to the unabashed Gypsy Rose Lee was remarkable. Physical appearance aside, Noll was unrecognizable. I was blown away by the dressing room scene. It was the best moment of the night. Not only was Sanderson totally engrossed in the action, but Noll was so authoritative and confident. I was on the edge of my seat.
Dark Horse Company Theatre and The Egyptian have put together a good show, one that all cast and crew members should be proud of. It’s a little inconsistent, and it suffers from a lack of attention to detail, but it’s a good show. At the very least, it tells the story of how one shy little girl grew up in a big way, and that is worth watching.