The audience at last Saturday’s Tony Awards Ceremony were treated to a karaoke performance of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” sung by the indelible Billy Porter. The number was a loving reminder of that fantastic song, part of the enduring musical, “Gypsy.” Audiences can enjoy the music and fun in 2nd Star Productions’ charming new staging of the iconic show.
The story is based on the early life of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famed theatrical performer and burlesque dancer. Debuting in 1959, the musical was made into the well-known 1962 film that starred Natalie Wood as Gypsy and Rosalind Russel as her mother, Rose. It’s the latter character that takes center stage, almost as soon as the curtain rises on Louise (Gypsy’s given name, played as a child by Maddox Howard) and her sister June (Madeleine McComb) auditioning for a vaudeville show. Stalking up the aisle, Rose insists especially on June’s potential. “That child’s going to be a star!” she exclaims to the showrunner. “That’s what they all say,” he answers back.
The early scene sets up the themes of the show; Rose’s determination that her daughters will make it in show business, and her favoritism of June as “the star.” Debbie Barber-Eaton does an admirable job conveying Rose’s self-involvement, as well as her magnetism. It’s not a surprise that she draws people in, to the children’s act, and to the family, including Herbie, a traveling salesman who becomes the act’s manager and Rose’s partner. Played with a gentle seriousness by Jim Reitzer, Herbie recognizes Rose’s obsession with making her mark. “You looked like a pioneer woman without a frontier,” he says of his first impression of Rose.
Arthur Laurents’ book provides plenty of fast-paced comedy throughout the show, and music by Jule Styne, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, ensures an evening of remarkable songs.
Jane B. Wingard and Bill Fellows’ industrial set serves equally well as a backdrop for the family’s humble apartment as it does for their stage engagements. Unsurprisingly, the stage set pieces are some of the most enjoyable of the show, especially the troupe’s audition for a major talent agent. Though the child actors are replaced by young adults partway through the first act, June (a confident Zoe Smith) must remain “Baby” June for the purposes of the act, a fact which chafes, as does her mother’s control over June’s desired career as an actress.
…[a] charming new staging of the iconic show.
Lindsey Litka gives a stellar performance as the adult Louise. A wonderful vocal talent, she telegraphs the character’s essential melancholy and loneliness in her early solo, “Little Lamb.” Accustomed to being a background player, yearning for her mother’s affection, she gets more than she bargains for when June runs away, and all Rose’s star-making energies turn towards her.
As Rose’s new act struggles to find booking, a misunderstanding leads to the troupe being booked at a burlesque theater. The turn of events initially shocks Rose, who holds a dim view of burlesque as a theatrical performance, though Louise is intrigued by the dancers themselves, who turn in some excellent supporting performances. “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” a musical explainer on the Hows of burlesque success is a comedic highlight of the show, with a major assist by Mark Briner’s inventively flamboyant costuming.
When Rose upsets the family’s fortunes one last time to get Louise top billing at the burlesque show, Louise’s silent heartbreak speaks volumes. It’s an emotional turning point, one that sees her embarking on a new solo career as a performer, gaining in confidence and charisma as she becomes Gypsy Rose Lee.
The final scene finds Rose in the spotlight, finally, though not in the way she planned. Though it seems to head for tragedy, the ending instead takes a turn into something more complex and poignant. It’s a satisfying finish to an evening of musical entertainment.
Running Time: 3 hours with one intermission.
Advisory: Some adult themes. One scene includes strobe lighting.
“Gypsy” runs through June 29 at the Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr, Bowie, MD. For tickets or more information, click here.