is the venerable musical that premiered in 1959, based loosely on the
memoirs of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee, and I saw the second
performance of its 5-week run at Sutter Street Theatre. Director Connie
Mockenhaupt gave an introduction, saying this was one of her favorite
shows – and one of the most difficult they have staged because of the
large cast. And I must say that sometimes, the frenzied action with a
large cast on the small Sutter Street Theatre stage, seemed almost too
much to take in – but that’s the nature of this big, big show.
When I say “large cast,” I’m not
kidding: there are 32 performers in all. Many of them are talented
kids – little and big – and they were always fun to watch, both for
their talent and the stage presence they displayed. But the adult
actors deserve a shout-out, too. Several with minor parts were so
entertaining that I found myself looking forward to each time they would
return to the stage.
The principal role was Mama Rose,
the ultimate stage mother. And in this role, Dawn DeBenedetto Maurer
was the sparkplug that kept the engine of this show running. To say
that her performance was intense is an understatement. She brought an
almost manic energy to each scene, and kept that energy throughout the
show, culminating in her final number, “Rose’s Turn.” I’m sure I’ve
seen it before, but offhand I can’t remember an actor so committed, so
consumed, by her part.
There was a lot of other good acting
(and singing and dancing) in this show. Brooke Flores played Louise
(eventually to become Gypsy Rose Lee), and time and again I was
conscious of the quality of her acting, even when the action of the
scene was away from her. It’s a special moment when an actor makes you
care, especially in the context of a musical comedy like this, but
Brooke made me care about what she was going through – more than once.
I presume it was her father, Blake Flores, who played Herbie, the
touring company’s booking agent and Mama Rose’s love interest. Among
the many other good actors, his acting (and singing) were notable.
Live music is such a plus for a show
like this, and that was artfully provided by talented keyboardist, John
Wilder, who was just about the hardest working performer in the whole
production. His excellent, versatile playing provided accompaniment to
every musical number, overtures to the first and second acts, and
musical cover for each of the many scene changes. He even provided
With music by Jule Styne and lyrics
by Stephen Sondheim, many of the musical numbers from this show are
well-established parts of the American Songbook: “Some People,” “Small
World,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” But I was especially
delighted by the lesser-known songs. “If Momma Was Married,” for
example, performed by Louise (Brooke Flores) and June (Jessica Bisbee)
was charming – but I felt the same about several of the other songs.
Costumer Eileen Beaver deserves in absentia
applause for her costuming of this big production. And in
particular her outfits for the strippers were completely over-the-top.
Finally, it was the guidance of an experienced director like Connie
Mockenhaupt that brought these elements together so successfully in this
well-loved staple of the American Musical Theatre. If you haven’t seen
Gypsy, be sure to catch this production. And even if you have
seen it in years or decades past, take a trip down memory lane; come and
enjoy it again.