Seeing Gypsy at Lyric Stage was a first of many things: first time I’ve seen this musical, first time at the Lyric Stage, and first regional production that’s being reviewed for Boston Musical Theatre. (All very exciting!)
Walking into the Lyric Stage, I was struck with how intimate the space is. I’m a huge fan of bringing big musicals into small, intimate stages, so I was very excited to see Gypsy in this space — especially in a three-quarter thrust.
Since never seeing this iconic, classic musical before, I ended up watching it like was a brand new musical, and while I do understand why some of these songs have lasted generations (mostly “Let Me Entertain You” because you hear it ad nauseam throughout), I’m still trying to understand why Gypsy is an important story that needs to be told in 2017, because I, frankly, I’m not totally sure it is.
My main struggle lands with the leading character, Mama Rose, played by the formidable Leigh Barrett. I couldn’t stand the character’s narcissistic qualities, the verbally/physical abuse of her children, and how everyone in her life (rightly and justly) leaves her because she’s generally horrible, manipulative and unkind to most people she meets. I didn’t see Rose’s journey of change and enlightenment similar to what you see in a “heroes journey”. Instead, her daughter Louise, after everything her mother put her through, goes up to her at the end of the musical and says quite nonchalantly, “It’s okay, Mama.”
Instead of screaming “Sing out, Louise!”, I almost screamed: “You deserve better, Louise!”
I just couldn’t believe that this was the resolve of the musical. (And remember this was no fault of the actors!)
I felt like most of the audience had already seen Gypsy, possibly several times, and knew the show forwards and backwards. Most the season subscribers were considerably older than me, so it’s quite possible they even saw the original cast on Broadway or one of the many subsequent revivals. There has to be some nostalgia wrapped up in the songs and characters that give people a wider understanding of Mama Rose. Because people leapt to their feet at the end of the show — they clearly saw something different than I did.
(God, I love the theatre, and how different people love such different things!)
I just couldn’t stand on my feet for a character who abused her children, year after year. Maybe it triggered me because I grew up as a child entertainer, and my mother never put me through any of what Rose put her two children, Louise (Kirsten Salpini) and June (Kira Troilo), through. Rose was relentless and to the detriment of every relationship she ever had, including the one person who loved and supported her throughout all of it, Herbie (played humorously by Steven Barkhimer). When Rose finally sings “Rose’s Turn” at the end of Act 2, I just didn’t have the sympathy for her.
She absolutely deserves to be alone.
You might think I’m crazy, at this point, because Gypsy could be your favorite musical. Or how could I criticize such a classic work — especially a show by Laurents, Styne and Sondheim. I feel a bit sacrilege, but I just can’t deal with the lack of female empowerment in her two daughters. If Rose taught her daughters anything, it should’ve been how to be empowered as a female in a man’s world. While, we do see a quick change of empowerment in her daughter, Louise, in the final scenes — it should have been more developed. You saw more about Louise’s journey in her self-esteem, but not the overlying issues that faced (and still faces) women in the entertainment industry.
But maybe this musical was enlightened for 1959… Remember, I’m seeing it for the first time in 2017. I don’t have any emotional connection to it so I’m only responding to it by thinking about what’s happening now, in the era of Trump.
So that brings me back to my original question: Why Gypsy? Why now? Why produce it in 2017?
Is it a look back on a bygone era?
Is it nostalgia?
Is it a chance to see a woman in a female-driven show? (By the way, that is a very good thing. I also love that it was directed by a female, Rachel Bertone.)
I’m still not totally sure of the answer.
As far as the production goes, I want to commend the scenic designer, Janie E. Howland, with the beautiful design of the proscenium arch and the musical director, Dan Rodriguez — both did a wonderful job! I also want to shout out to the trumpet-playing burlesque dancer, Kathy St. George. She brought the house down in the song, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”. Hi-lar-i-ous. Also, Brady Miller does a wonderful job as Tulsa, a triple-threat throughout.
Gypsy might have been the first musical I have ever seen that was not amplified (!!), and Rodriguez did a wonderful job balancing the talented six-piece band with the un-mic’ed actors. Rodriguez did a great job adapting the orchestrations so that it felt like a full lush orchestra, even though there are only six pieces playing.
I did struggle a bit with the pacing. There were several blackouts that really killed the energy and forward movement of the show. I know the older style of the show might “ask” for that, but I wonder if they could have been creative with the set changes so that some happened in the light, so that the energy didn’t dissipate with every stop and start.
One point that definitely needs to be celebrated is the diversity in the casting! I absolutely adored how many different types of ethnicities were in the cast — especially the younger children. It was inspiring to see that type of diversity work in the actors. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often in musical theatre.
Kudos to the entire creative team for supporting diversity in the theatre.
Overall, you should see this if you are a fan of the musical! It would be interesting to get your take on the production. I’d love to rumble with you about some of the questions I have with Gypsy.
In any case, I can’t wait to go back to the Lyric Stage — the space is wonderful, and I can’t wait to see Road Show and The Wiz later in their season!