Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Jule Styne’s “Gypsy” has long captivated audiences not only because of its beloved score but also because of its main character, Rose, who has been called one of the most complex characters in musical theatre history. The mother of two children, the soft-spoken Louise and her talented younger sister June, Rose acts as the show’s central figure, a stage mother who relentlessly pushes her children into the world of vaudeville and Broadway performance. The show follows the girls as they grow from children into young women, as Rose devises new acts for them even as they yearn to live simpler lives.
…even if you don’t consider yourself the type of person who enjoys Golden Age musicals, I encourage you to give this one a chance.
Having been portrayed by such iconic performers are Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, Patti Lupone, Bette Midler, and Ethel Merman, anyone who takes on the part of Rose has enormous shoes to fill. Luckily, Cathy Mundy, who played the role at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, was up for the challenge, embodying the character with her traditional verve and ferocity. Her powerful vocals held up throughout the length of the show, an impressive feat considering Rose sings twice as much as any other character in the show. Mundy’s immense control during even Rose’s vocally-taxing solos, “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “Rose’s Turn” was especially impressive.
A central challenge of playing Rose, however — even more so than delivering stellar vocals and capturing her signature brassy persona — is exposing the character’s vulnerability throughout the show. Though there were a few moments where I wished Mundy would show the audience even more of Rose’s instability (the show’s closing number, for example, felt somewhat tame), scenes like “Small World Reprise” demonstrated the complexity of Mundy’s Rose well.
Though Rose is the show’s main player by far, no production of “Gypsy” would be complete without a talented supporting cast. Baby June and Baby Louise (Nina Brothers and Maddie Ellinghaus) did an excellent job of exemplifying the contrast between the two sisters, and the vaudeville-style numbers they performed (along with a children’s ensemble composed of Cooper Trump, Jackson Smith, and Hannah Dash) left the audience utterly charmed.
Louisa Tringali gave an impactful performance as Dainty June despite the character being featured in only a handful of scenes, and her featured number, “Dainty June and Her Farmboys” (in which she sings a duet with a cow) was perhaps the most entertaining in the show
Finally, MaryKate Brouillet’s portrayal of Louise (who is later turned into the titular Gypsy Rose Lee) was absolutely stunning. Though I must admit I felt her first solo, “Little Lamb,” seemed lacking, she had no trouble winning me over with her subsequent number, “If Mama Was Married,” a lively duet shared masterfully with Tringali. From there, I was hooked. Brouillet embodied Louise’s meek character in everything from her slouched, sheepish posture to her nervous, girlish smile. This wonderful portrayed made her transformation from Louise to the confident, feminine Gypsy all the more stark — and all the more convincing.
The production’s sets, designed by David A. Hopkins, was simple but generally effective; most scenes were denoted by little more than a table and chairs, or a few beds. The effect was not particularly eye-catching, but served the show well and avoided distracting from the actors’ performances. I found the costumes, designed by Janine Sunday, more striking; not only did they characterize the play’s setting well, but they also impressively characterized the people wearing them.
One of the show’s greatest assets was its choreography by Mark Minnick (who also served as director alongside Toby Orenstein). Though the show is more sparse on high-energy dance breaks than some of its contemporaries, Tulsa’s (the most prominent of June’s “farmboys”; portrayed by Shiloh Orr) solo in “All I Need is the Girl” was one of the most dynamic moments in the production.
Ultimately, Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of “Gypsy” was a faithful adaptation of a classic show, and even if you don’t consider yourself the type of person who enjoys Golden Age musicals, I encourage you to give this one a chance — there’s a reason it has resonated with audiences for the past six decades.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with one 20 minute intermission.
“Gypsy” runs through March 17, 2019, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre. Click here for more information and tickets.