This review of Gypsy at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Director: Mark Harborth
Costume Designer: Joey Haws
Choreographer: Jerry Mittelhauser
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Gypsy is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother Rose, and her obsession to raise her two daughters to perform on stage. The character of Louise is based on Lee, and the character of June is based on Lee's sister, the actress June Havoc. The original Broadway production, in which Ethel Merman played Rose, opened on May 21, 1959 at The Broadway Theatre, transferred to the Imperial Theatre, and closed on March 25, 1961 after 702 performances and two previews. The original production received eight Tony Award nominations but failed to win any. Gypsy was revived in 1974 opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 23, 1974 and closing on January 4, 1975 after 120 performances and four previews. Angela Lansbury, who played Rose, won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. A 1989 Broadway revival opened on November 16, 1989 at the St. James Theatre, and then moved to the Marquis Theatre on April 18, 1991 closing on July 28, 1991 after 476 performances and 23 previews. This production won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Tyne Daly, who played Rose, won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. A new Broadway revival began previews on March 31, 2003 and opened on May 1, 2003 at the Shubert Theatre. Bernadette Peters played Rose and the show failed to win any Tony Awards. It closed on May 30, 2004 after 451 performances and 33 previews. The most recent Broadway revival was in 2008. Gypsy opened at the St. James Theatre on March 27, 2008 with Patti Lupone as Rose, Boyd Gaines as Herbie, and Laura Benanti as Louise. All three won Tony Awards for their performances. The show closed on January 11, 2009, having played for 332 performances and 27 previews. On the eve before the final curtain call, Ms. Lupone made news when she literally stopped the show in the middle of the song "Rose's Turn," to scold a patron for taking illegal photographs during the performance.
The current production of Gypsy at The Gallery Players is huge. In fact, it contains 31 actors, the largest number of performers to have appeared on stage in any show they have produced over the past 50 years. All of the actors in this production are excellent in their respective roles. There are no weak links and everyone deserves kudos for their fine performances. Of course, I have my favorites; actors who I felt went above and beyond the call of duty to embody their character and entertain the audience. First on the list is the extremely talented and charismatic Jolie Rose Wasserman, who played Baby June. She is a remarkable actress and was a delight to see perform. Dave Konig excelled as the emotionally distraught, dominated Herbie, Rose's long-suffering beau. Lorinne Lampert played Tessie Tura, one of the strippers, in a manner which enabled the audience to empathize with her life and plight. Elizabeth Nestlerode was extraordinary bringing to life Louise, the shy, neglected sister who blossomed into Gypsy Rose Lee, the self-confident stripper who was finally able to stand up to her mother and make her own choices as to which direction her life was going to take. While many in the audience liked Adam Fontana (Tulsa) as the "best of the boys" based primarily on his solo dance number, I was more impressed with James David Dirck (Yonkers), who projected a certain charisma and stage presence that made it clear to me he has a promising future in the theater. Finally, I need to comment on Victoria Bundonis, who played Rose in this production. Ms. Bundonis played the role more in the style of Ethel Merman than Bernadette Peters, blindly pushing her girls to be stars whatever their talent level might be. She paraded on stage with a set of brass balls and commanded people's attention. A flaw in the book is that she never really questions her motivations until the very end of the play and seems not to care how many people she pushed out of her life fully deceiving herself into thinking that they left her. The big negative is that Victoria Bundonis doesn't always sing on tune and has trouble hitting the higher notes. As a regular audience member, you may not be too distracted by this because, during any one performance, it is barely noticeable to the untrained ear.
To be clear, Rose is not a sympathetic character. When her father failed to loan her $88.00, she stole the gold plaque he received for 50 years of service to the railroad and pawned it. She constantly talked and once when she told Mr. Weber not to interrupt her in the middle of a sentence, he responded, "You are always in the middle of a sentence!". Rose also forced her girls and boys to lie about their ages ("as long as you're in this act, no one is over 10"), sleep in the same room, go without pay and mostly eat Chinese take-out food. When she would get in trouble with rent she owed or having too many people in one small apartment, she would fake sexual assault in order to buy herself some time. The career that Rose was unable to achieve for herself is the one she tried to force upon her daughters, first focusing on June (who ultimately married Tulsa and went off on her own) and then on the less talented Louise. She once told her father, "Anyone who stays home is dead!". Herbie viewed her as "a pioneer woman without a frontier." Rose kept putting off accepting Herbie's marriage proposals, saying, "After three husbands, it takes a lot of butter to get you back into the frying pan."
The depression and the talkies were ruining Vaudeville so it was only a matter of time before their bookings dried up. Rose tried mounting many shows including Baby June & Her Newsboys, Dainty June & Her Farmboys (featuring Caroline the Cow), and Madame Rose's Toreadorables (many ideas for which came to her in dreams). When Rose prevented June from taking advantage of an offer to pay for one-year's acting lessons to make her a legitimate actress, their relationship soured and they became irreparably estranged, eventually leading to June leaving. With Louise now the lead star of a new show entitled Rose Louise & Her Hollywood Blondes, Herbie got them booked as a legitimate act "that's supposed to keep the cops out" of a Burlesque House in Wichita, Kansas appropriately named "The Bottom." Desperately needing the money, Rose finally agreed to the two-week run and Louise started making extra money sewing costumes for the strippers. A "star spot" opened up and Rose convinced Louise to take it. At least she would be a star somewhere. Her grandfather once said they ran around the country like gypsies so she was to be announced as Gypsy Rose Louise, which in the play the announcer misstated as Gypsy Rose Lee, which stuck. Over time, she became a headliner at Minsky's and other Burlesque locations, eventually becoming Queen of the Burlesque. Her signature song, which she sang as a child remained "Let Me Entertain You." One of her funnier lines was to tell the audience, "My mother used to say 'make them beg for more and then don't give it to them' but I am not my mother, so if you beg for more, I'll give it to you!"
Whether you have seen a production of Gypsy or not, I guarantee you will enjoy this show, which received a standing ovation from the sold-out audience. Popular songs from the musical you may recognize include Some People, Small World, Everything's Coming Up Roses, Together Wherever We Go, Let Me Entertain You, and Rose's Turn. There is also a wonderful scene in which a strobe light is used to indicate the passage of time. It is not to be missed!
Tickets cost $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for Seniors & Children. Gypsy plays through October 9, 2016 at The Gallery Players (Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.). To purchase tickets, call Ovationtix at 212-352-3101 or visit their website at http://galleryplayers.com/