Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music Direction by Rick Fox
Choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Stunningly produced GYPSY is thoroughly entertaining
From the first notes from Valerie Maze’s 14 member orchestra, you get those thrilling, brass-infused, sharp tones that speak burlesque – Broadway. The mood gets set with one of the ‘great’ overtures ever. Instantly, we are thrust into the world of the 20’S vaudeville and the 30’s burlesque.
Next, a little girl walks on stage and stumps her feat making the ghost light shine. We are on stage with a group of children as they try out for a slot in a show. The children in director Gary Griffin’s production were exceptionally talented. The show is on…and it is a fabulous night at the theater! The Chicago Shakespeare production ofGYPSY is a world-class one reminiscent of their Follies from 2011. Featuring a brassy toe-tapping vaudevillian score from Jule Styne and clever lyrics for a young Stephen Sondheim, GYPSY is the quintessential backstage Broadway musical that audiences adore.
GYPSY is my # 4 All-Time favorite musical and I have seen many terrific productions of this backstage classic. The score by Julie Stein and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim together with Arthur Laurents’ book blend together to offer a human backstage story of daring to chase your dreams. As much as GYPSY is the story of the making of a burlesque star, it is really Mama Rose’s story.’
The ambitious, driven ultimate stage mother, Mama Rose is one of the great characters in all of American Broadway musicals. Any production of GYPSY depends on who plays Mama Rose. I happy to report that Louise Pitre is outstanding (one of the best to every play the role!). Her strong, emotionally determined stage mother, commands all her scenes. She is small in height but a giant in her scenes. When Pitre arrives on stage, all eyes go to the dynamic woman. Pitre’s singing was smooth and heartfelt with a deep emotional base. especially when she blurts out “Sing Out, Louise” as storms onto the stage. We know instantly that Rose is in charge here. Mama Rose has that blend of toughness without being nasty; that staunch determination to make her daughter a star. Her vocal tones gives Mama Rose substance as she earns our empathy…we cheer for her to make her kids stars.
Pitre’s fine voice delivers “Some People” with fanatical determination; smoothly charms Herby in “Small World,” and motivates Louise in the stirring anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Her rendition of the fantastic “Rose’s Turn,” where Rose lets loose all the emotions from a lifetime of dreams was effectively performed. Pitre’s best moments come in those above show stoppers.
Rose’s love interest, Herbie is play with a rich blend of warmth, shyness and charm by Keith Kupferer – a under appreciated actor who gives Herbie a quiet charm that is winning.
Mitzi Hamilton’s classic choreography, danced deftly using the vaudeville numbers and tap combinations with has some funny bits and her kids danced up a storm. Rhett Guter, as Tulsa, glides through the “All I Need Is The Girl” number smoothly. The boys, Guter (Tulsa), Joseph Sammour (Yonkers) and Brandon Haagenson (L.A.) dance their hearts out.
One of the key’s to GYPSY is Louise, the almost forgotten child of Mama Rose. Jessica Rush, as Lousie, makes the transition from a ‘no-talent’ vaudevillian to the slick stripper Gypsy Rose Lee wonderfully. Erin Burniston’s June was excellent. Both her and Rush danced and sang their duet, “If Momma Was Married” in fine harmony.
The show stopper, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” was a hoot with sexy Molly Callinan as Mezeppa (with horn), Barbara E. Robertson’s Tessie (with finesse) and the hilariously Electra (with lighting) from Rengin Altay each showing their stripping skills. This scene was a hoot!
Gary Griffin’s production of GYPSY is flawless, fast-faced, well acted and superbly sung and danced. Who could ask for anything more? GYPSY is a classic back stage story of vaudeville and of a mother’s living her life and her dreams through her children. It is also about the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famed stripper. This production is honest, emotional and empathetic. Louise Pitre sure has made Mama Rose hers. What an amazing performance! it begs to be seen. This GYPSY is one of 2014’s best shows.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 13, 2014
For more info checkout the GYPSY page at theatreinchicago.com
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, call 312-595-5600, www.chicagoshakes.com, tickets $48 – $88, Tuesday thru Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 8 pm. matinees on Wednesdays at 1 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm, Sundays at 2pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 23, 2014