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Drama Dock pulls of ‘Gypsy’ with comic flair
By SUSAN McCABE
Who’d a thunk that a play about a stripper could be a family show? But “Gypsy” is and has been since its Broadway premiere in 1959. Drawn from the memoirs of famed burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the musical with Jule Styne tunes, Stephen Sondheim lyrics and an Arthur Laurents story is all about family with a focus on Mom.
Mom is the inimitable Rose who, in a later era, might have been a General Motors CEO. But in 1920s-30s Vaudeville, Rose was a “pushy stage mother” to her two daughters, June and Louise. Some might even call Rose a negligent narcissistic parent, but the greater probability, and the gist of this story, is that Rose simply wants to live through her children, help them realize her own dreams.
The story is among the best ever to hit Broadway, as is the music. And Drama Dock’s production of “Gypsy” gives Stephanie Murray as Rose the prefect showcase to deliver on the great tunes as well as the powerful character. Murray doesn’t just sing musical nuggets like “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “Rose’s Turn.” She sells every song she tackles, and it’s mesmerizing.
The cast of Drama Dock stalwarts and a host of young newcomers throw themselves into the comedy of the story, even when the inevitable opening night glitch turns up, like when Phil Dunn deftly kicked an unrelenting alarm clock off stage right in the middle of a full chorus performance of “Mr. Goldstone,” making the already hilarious number even funnier. And, when the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing while the stuffy Miss Cratchitt, played by Sue DeNies, tried to speak her lines to it, she blithely engaged in a Lily Tomlin-esque monologue to the delight of her audience.
Phil Dunn, as Rose’s love-enslaved Herbie, proves once again there is no part he can’t pull off with comic poignancy. The two teen sisters, Hanna Fellbaum as Louise and Maria Gilmour as teen June, dig their emerging chops into their characters, playing well off each other and providing some sweet musical interludes. Fellbaum’s touching performance of “Little Lamb” is the tear-jerker of the show while Gilmour puts her vocal versatility on display in three ensemble numbers with Fellbaum and the boys’ chorus. And Zoey Rice is most convincing as she takes Louise from shy girl to confident young woman in love with the celebrity life she’s crafted. We don’t see enough of Max Lopuszinski, but when we do see him, he dominates the stage with charm.
The song “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” has been one of musical comedy’s most liberally interpreted pieces, and this production is no exception. The three actors playing “seasoned” strippers, Electra (Elise Morrill), Tessie (Kelli Brown) and Mazeppa (Shannon Flora), have such fun with their characters that gut-busting laughter is guaranteed.
Director Stephen Floyd pulls off a joyful noise with this production. The set is wisely minimal, allowing almost instant changes in the multiple locations where Rose, Herbie and the girls travel in their quest for show biz success. The set and costume changes can be daunting in a production that covers so many times, places and personalities. With help from the lighting designer, Michael Barker, the story flows easily among dates and locations.
One of the things that make live theater great is the evolution of a production and its characters. Unlike Broadway runs, Drama Dock casts and crews only get two weekends to perfect their performances with an audience. For that reason, I’m looking forward to seeing “Gypsy” again this weekend so I can share in the performers’ experience of growing into their parts. “Gypsy” is delicious material to be devoured through laughter and tears by cast and audience alike.
— Susan McCabe is an island writer and Voice of Vashon’s station manager.