Book by Arthur Laurents,
suggested by memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee
Music by Jule Styne,
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Dan Kelly
Melding Melody, Lyrics and Talent in Gypsy Revival
If ever an actor deserved a standing ovation, it is Ann Marie Olson in Stage Door Theater’s excellent production of Gypsy. After a vivid depiction of “Mama Rose” pushing her two young daughters into stardom, she arouses audience sympathy when, near the end of the musical, she belts out “Rose’s Turn” — a stirring confession both to the audience and herself about just how much her obsessive behavior has been vicarious. What she wanted for her daughters, she had always wanted for herself, and been unable to achieve — born too soon, trying too late. Her children, film star June Havoc and famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee will move on because or (perhaps) in spite of her. Exploitation is admitted — and if not justified, at least made more palatable. Usually in a musical, characters are sublimated to plot. Not here.
This musical tells a poignant story — sometimes funny, sometimes quite sad — as it explores tenuous family relationships. Olson is larger than life as the aggressive back-stage mama — quite in the vein of her stage predecessors, which include Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, and Bernadette Peters. Olson’s vivid portrayal and resounding voice bring Rose to life, a woman who will not accept defeat, and who ruthlessly rules her daughters with an iron fist — initially as children and then well into their adult lives.
Kudos also to Erica Rose Mendez as the favored younger child June, and Kelly Ziegler as neglected Louise who only reluctantly takes the spotlight when she transforms from mediocre performer into world famous stripper after her more talented sister flees their mother’s dominance. Their sibling interplay hits just the right note. Lover/agent long suffering Herbie, played by Matthew Korinko, wrenches both Rose’s and the audience’s heartstrings when he can “take no more.”
Praise to young sisters Lola (9) and Zoe Rae McClure (11) playing June and Louise as children. The song and dance routine where they morph into their adult selves is adroit and skillfully choreographed.
The music more than complements the plot with such memorable songs as “May We Entertain You?” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me “and” Everything’s Coming up Roses.” This play was another Stephen Sondheim lyrics triumph. Oh, they just don’t make musicals like this anymore.
Gypsy has been deservedly touted as one of America’s best musicals and Frank Rich (of the New York Times) gave a most provocative label when he cited it as “Broadway’s own brassy, unlikely answer to King Lear.”
Based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s family expose, this no-holds-barred memoir — so brilliantly worked into a musical — is not to be missed.
Beverly Friend, PhD
Member American Theater Critics Assn.
Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Margate, Fl 33065. http://stagedoortheatre.com 954-344-7765 .Tickets $38-42 ($16 for students), 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, through Jan 3