Gypsy – a musical fable
Book by Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by Jule Styne
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Matthew McCoy
Bay Area Musicals
You can tell Gypsy holds a special place in Artistic Director/Choreographer Matthew McCoy’s heart. His stellar production of one of America’s finest showbiz backstories is full of heart, commitment and high-quality talent. From the 10-piece orchestra, to each chorus member to the strong leads, this Gypsy starts off Bay Area Musical’s fifth season with a bang.
The ultimate stage mother character was born in Mamma Rose Hovick, a complicated manipulative character both loathsome and sympathetic and it requires a bravura performance of nuance and strength to succeed. Gratefully, McCoy is a master at casting and his Rose, Ariela Morgenstern delivers a stunning presentation of a woman burdened with abandonment issues and unresolved potential. Determined to have success, her energies are displaced onto her daughter Baby June, a mediocre vaudeville talent whose skills are limited to the splits and high kick.
The score of Gypsy contains popular hit after hit. Rose’s opening number “Some People” aptly sets her characters raison d’etre: dream big and don’t be hum drum. Morgenstern follows in the big shoes of theater giants (Lansbury, Peters, Daly, Russel and LuPone) and carries this production on the strength of her grit, determination and pathos. Her encounters with the male figures presented here (shifty theatre owners, skeevy agents and even her love interest Herbie (DC Scarpelli) are treated as adversarial means to an end.
The storyline follows Mamma Rose and her tawdry Baby June show as they work the vaudeville circuit near the beginning of the Great Depression. Its hard times indeed, with no one getting paid and only meager hot or miss gigs to hold the tattered dream together. “Let Me Entertain You” is Baby June’s (a perky Emma Berman) signature song and it follow her character as she ages up ungracefully to late teens. The transition from the adolescent act to the teens is staged perfectly by McCoy through a giant tarp that cover the young to reveal the aging sisters June (Tia Konsur) and Louise (Jade Shojaee). With her agent/lover Herbie in tow, Rose still dreams the big dream summed in the iconic “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.
When June takes off with Tulsa (Jean-Paul Jones), a chorus line dancer to escape her mother’s control and gain creative freedom, Rose is left with Louise, always the second banana is the troupe often disguised as a moocow. With no discernible talents, Louise tries her best to conform to Rose’s cookie cutter routine’s, but by this time, vaudeville is a dying art replaced by the cheap thrills of burlesque. When a star stripper gets arrested, Louise grabs her chance at doing something new and exciting. She’s taught the tricks of stripping by three veteran “entertainers”, Mazeppa (Olivia Cabera), Electra (Glenna Murillo) and Tessie Tura (Elaine Jennings) is the show-stealing number “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”.
Louise will become the top stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, making a fortune and becoming fiercely independent, further distancing herself from Rose. Herbie walks out on the non-committal mother and Rose is left alone to mull over what could have been if she were born a tad later (Rose’s Turn”). Morgenstern owns the stage at this point, proving that she does have the ‘stuff’ she so desperately wished her daughters possessed. All her suppressed ambitions and resentments pour forth in a cathartic release of adrenaline.
McCoy has cast this show excellently from the top down; from Mamma Rose, Herbie, June and Louise to the chorus lines, strippers and supporting roles. Brooke Jennings’ costumes are a standout as is the fine musical direction of Jon Gallo. Gypsy is a cautionary tale of self-fulfillment in a tough world that doesn’t always value merit and substance over flash and gimmicks.
Gypsy continues through December 8, 2019 at Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets available at https://www.bamsf.org/gypsy
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio