by Mike Hoban
‘Gypsy’ – Music by Jules Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Arthur Laurents. Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone; Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland; Costume Design by Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner, Jr. ; Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will. Presented by Lyric Stage Company at 140 Clarendon St. through October 8.
The Lyric Stage opens its 2017-2018 season with a bang, tackling the (stage) mother of all musicals, Gypsy – widely regarded as one of musical theater’s greatest works – and delivering one of the year’s best musical productions. Fueled by a powerhouse performance by Boston favorite Leigh Barrett, Gypsy paints the seriocomic portrait of Rose Hovick, the fame-seeking mother of renowned Depression-era exotic dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, who wisecracked (and stripped) her way into the hearts of adoring burlesque house audiences across the nation.
For those unfamiliar with the story (they exist), the maniacally driven Rose devises a song and dance act for her young daughters June and the fundamentally untalented Louise (Gypsy), and takes them out on the road, working VFW and Elks hall gigs before eventually clawing their way onto the vaudeville circuit. Rose handles every aspect of the act, from writing the (comically awful) material to manipulating her way into bookings at the various venues. We can feel the kid’s pain as they execute Rose’s laughable routines, which generally conclude with a show of uber-patriotic pandering. While June sells the dreck with all of her little heart, Louise often looks bewildered and grossly uncomfortable as she tries to keep up with her talented sibling.
During one of her conniving sessions with a booker, Rose meets Herbie (a wonderfully understated performance by Steven Barkhimer) the soft-hearted former talent agent. Herbie is immediately smitten with Rose and helps her land the gig, setting the stage for his becoming her chief enabler as he pursues her hand in marriage. As the girls begin to age out of their kiddie roles (Rose keeps forging their birth certificates but nature is telling a different story), the wheels begin to come off the gravy train as June elopes with one of the act’s dance partners – setting the stage for Louise to become Gypsy Rose Lee.
As compelling as Arthur Laurents wonderful book is, it’s the musical numbers that elevate the show to its lofty status in musical theater, and under Rachel Bertone’s direction, the talented cast scores big with the well-known numbers (“Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go,” and “Everything’s Coming up Roses”) as well as the less familiar gems. Barrett is terrific as Mama Rose, bulldozing everyone around her to get what she wants, and nailing her signature line “I made you! And you wanna know why? You wanna know what I did it for?! Because I was born too soon and started too late, that’s why! With what I have in me, I could’ve been better than ANY OF YOU!” with deranged gusto before launching into the closing “Rose’s Turn”.
Barrett is supported by a deep and talented cast, including Kirsten Salpini as Louise/Gypsy, who follows up last year’s IRNE-nominated performance in Murder for Two at the Lyric with another solid turn as Louise. Her vocals are superb in the touching “Little Lamb” and she teams with June (an adorable Kira Troilo) on the duet, “If Momma Was Married”, one of the shows best numbers. But it is Salpini’s acting that distinguishes her performance, with a level of engagement with the other players that is remarkable. She, Barrett and Barkhimer also shine in the iconic “Together Wherever We Go”. As Tulsa, one of the sidekicks in Rose’s act, Brady Miller stands out in the wonderful dance routine with Louise, “All I Need Is The Girl”.
Great supporting performances are also submitted by the young kids, Margot Anderson-Song (Baby June) and Cate Galante (young Louise), as well as Jessica Quaranto and Ben Choi-Harris, but it is the trio of Jordan Clark (Electra), Kathy St. George (Mazeppa) and Shannon Lee Jones (Tessie) that nearly steal the show in the wildly comic number “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”. Bertone and set designer Janie E. Howland really create the look and atmosphere of the low-rent performance venues, and there’s a real intimacy to this production. The Lyric’s Gypsy is truly a classic done well. For more info, go to: http://www.lyricstage.com/