by Tony Annicone
Lyric Stage Company’s opening show of their season is the hit 1959 musical “Gypsy” with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. This musical is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of famous striptease artist, Gypsy Rose Lee. It is the biography of Gypsy and her mother, Rose and is the classic musical fable of the definitive stage mother, Momma Rose. It follows the daughter’s life from her early days in vaudeville with her younger sister, June Havoc, to her successful career in burlesque.
However the star of this show is her tyrannical mother, Rose and director/choreographer Rachel Bertone picks the incredible performer, Leigh Barrett, a multitalented actress to fill this role played by Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone on stage and Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler on film. Momma Rose pushes her two children into to show business at any cost, to fulfill the dream of stardom she never achieved herself. “Gypsy” is a story of ambition, suppressed dreams and sacrifice. Rachel fills the show with many comic moments mixed with some poignant ones to flesh out this well-known script. Leigh, Kirsten Salpini as Louise and Steven Barkhimer as Herbie and their supporting cast fill this theatre with their vocal, acting and dancing skills to please the enthusiastic and appreciative audience on a brilliant masterpiece of American musical theatre at its best.
Rachel directs, choreographs and blocks this talented cast excellently. The many scene changes are handled superbly, keeping the show in constant motion with it spanning twenty five years. The marvelous scenic design is by Janie Howland. Rachel handles the transformation scene from younger children to older ones during a strobe light dance as well as tap dancing, Charleston, soft shoe and the hilarious strip numbers brilliantly. These dances give the show the energetic boost to carry the musical numbers forward. Outstanding dance numbers include the Tulsa dance, the Broadway section with hats and canes, Louise’s strip numbers, soft shoe dance by Rose and Herbie and the Toreadorables flag number. Another humorous aspect of this show is that Rose keeps the same music over and over again, but only changing the lyrics. The fabulous musical direction is by Dan Rodriguez who plays keyboards and conducts a seven piece orchestra and taught all the tongue twisting Stephen Sondheim lyrics and Jule Styne music to the talented vocalists. The trumpet playing by Paul Perfetti and Josh Gilbert is spectacular. What a terrific way to start off Lyric’s new season.
Leigh Barrett delivers a tour-de-force performance as Momma Rose, the stage mother of all mothers. She runs rough shod over her two daughters because she was never given the opportunity they have. Rose explains that is because her mother left her at an early age. Current day psychologists would have a field day with this real life woman. Leigh makes this role her own, making it fit perfectly as well as making you forget anyone else you’ve seen playing this part. Her acting prowess is superb because she can have you laughing hysterically one minute and sobbing uncontrollably the next. Leigh’s strong voice which I have only heard doing soprano roles previously, shines in her numbers. “Some People” where she decides to leave Seattle with her girls and head to L.A. and the show stopping “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” where she has a mini nervous breakdown when June elopes with Tulsa. She also excels in “Together”, the trio number where she realizes that she, Louise and Herbie must stick together and her shining moment of glory in “Rose’s Turn”, a long soliloquy that stops the show with power and punch, leaving the audience cheering in the aisles.
Leigh also handles her romantic duets beautifully in “Small World” when she first meets Herbie then gives it a poignant rendition in Act 2 when he finally leaves Rose after she lets Louise become a stripper as well as the soft shoe “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” done in a Chinese restaurant. The tears flow profusely after Herbie leaves her during the reprise of “Small World” so poignantly One of her funniest numbers is “Mr. Goldstone” where she sings and the children hurl props at the booking agent and march around him, leaving the audience laughing merrily. Leigh is marvelous in this role, delivering the goods in a whirlwind of energy from her first entrance with her dog, Chowsie in her handbag, to the final curtain where she and Kirsten as Gypsy leave the stage arm in arm. Brava on a job very well done!
Playing the role of Louise who became Gypsy Rose Lee is Kirsten Salpini. She displays her strong acting prowess when she makes the transition from shy teenager into a sophisticated young woman during the course of the show. Kirsten’s gorgeous voice is heard in “If Momma Was Married” with June where they wish their mother would marry Herbie and leave them alone, “Together” trio with Rose and Herbie and solos in the most poignant song in the show, “Little Lamb” where she sings that she doesn’t know how old she is. She also displays the depth of the character as she grows more confident as an ecdysiast during the “Let Me Entertain You” segment which became the real Gypsy Rose Lee’s signature number wherever she danced including Minsky’s. Kirsten is dynamite in the final confrontation scene with Rose when she finally tells her off at the end of the second act. Kudos on a terrific job.
Steven Barkhimer does a marvelous job as Herbie, the sympathetic booking agent who falls madly in love with Rose. He gives the role great depth with his acting prowess. His voice is heard in the romantic duets with Leigh and in the trio “Together” where he displays his dancing moves. Steven has many comic moments but his best dramatic ones occur when he threatens Pastey with bodily harm when he swears in front of Rose and Louise in the burlesque theatre and when he finally develops a backbone to stand up to Rose’s bad behavior and obsession of being a stage mother after all these years and finally walks out on her. He delivers a gut punch to the audience and wins their applause as he leaves the stage. Kira Troilo is splendid as Dainty June. Her marvelous voice and dancing skills are observed as she dances up a storm with the boys. Kira sings and dances with them in “Caroline” which also has a comical dancing cow and again in “Broadway” where she realizes that she can’t abandon Caroline after all and does phenomenal splits in them. She also displays her powerful voice with Kirsten in “If Momma Was Married” as well as her excellent acting prowess as they wish Rose would marry him and leave them be. The younger June and Louise are well played by Margot Anderson-Song and Cate Galante. Cate has to be behind in the dance steps to show Louise as not being adept at the dance steps. (However Cate is a marvelous dancer in real life!) The boys do a superb military dance in the Uncle Sam section and are played by Ben Choi-Harris and Jessica Quaranto as the younger ones and Brady Miller and David Alea as the older ones.
The biggest scene stealers in this show are the three strippers in the second act played fabulously by Kathy St. George as the trumpet playing Mazeppa, Jordan Clark as the twinkling, Electra and Shannon Lee Jones as Tessie Tura who was a former ballerina. They sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” which says you don’t need any talent but these three ladies have oodles of talent, dancing skills and singing voices. I last reviewed Kathy as Mame last winter at Stoneham Theatre and Shannon as Mrs. Wilkerson in “Billy Elliot” in RI. Shannon has many funny one liners as Tessie and makes them all hit pay dirt. Kathy does a comic bit as the secretary in Act 1 and plays the bugle as Mazeppa and is a hoot in both roles. From Mame to Mazeppa! Another fabulous dancer is Brady Miller as Tulsa. He uses his powerful tenor voice to sell “All I Need Now Is the Girl” but it is Brady’s dancing skills that will leave you the most impressed. Another scene stealer is Anna Chesney as Agnes in the second act. She’s a Toreadorable and delivers her comic one liners with glee. I have many happy memories of this show, having played Pastey back in 1979 for Warwick Players and also having seen Angela Lansbury as Rose in “Gypsy” in Boston back in 1974. Kudos to everyone who worked on the magnificent musical. So be sure to catch “Gypsy” at Lyric Theatre Company, before Momma Rose and her gang leave town for good. Tell them Tony sent you to see the must see show of this season.
GYPSY (1 September to 8 October)
Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon St, Boston, MA
1(617)585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com