Friday, February 22, 2008

*Gypsy* (a [trumpet] blow-by-blow review)

through Sunday, Feb. 24, at the INB Center

A solid production of a show that's nearly 50 years old and doesn't feel it -- at least the resolution is mother-daughter and not just another case of happily-ever-after lovers.
Kathy Halenda indulges in some stand-and-belt Miss Merman-style moments, but she lets the creeping sadness of both act-ending numbers gradually accumulate: We're not just hit over the head right away with "she's nutso."
"Let Us/Me Entertain You" is affecting in how it charts the growth of Mama Rose's two little girls — and in how Mama Rose herself, in staging vaudeville shows, stubbornly has no imagination or flexibility at all. One letdown is how much cutesy-widdle-kiddies cuteness you have to suffer through in this show. (I half-agree with the impresario in this show who grumbles, "There's only one thing I like less than kids -- and that's kids onstage.")
Halenda has great energy in "Some People," with the physical frenzy counterweighted against Sondheim's rapid-fire lyrics, so that it was never overwhelmingly frenetic at any one moment. This is an "I want" song with gusto, and I loved the stealing-of-Papa's-gold-plaque moment at the very end: We sympathize with Rose's anti-mediocrity fervor, but we also see that's she's cheap and petty.
Not enough exuberance in the "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You" number for my taste. Rose has just found out that they made it (sort of) on the Orpheum circuit, so it's the pinnacle of her dreams — but eight crazy kids doing rapid choreography and door-slamming tricks in the small space of this production's slide-on set piece made everything feel too contrived. It wasn't happy, it was scripted happy, which is different.
I love the "Little Lamb" number — our first insight into Louise/Gypsy's mind. Done while cradling the stuffed sheep, of course. Missy Dowse, with her slumped shoulders and poor posture and glasses and pigtails, really looks the part of the ugly duckling — which of course makes the butterfly's hatching from the chrysalis (forcing a metaphor here) / emergence as Gypsy in a ball gown all the more impressive.
Dowse and Ruby Lewis, as June, delivered "If Momma Was Married" too much to an invisible Mama, at least in my opinion. An opportunity was lost here to suggest a little sisterly closeness.
Director/choreographer Sam Viverito kept Louise seated on a barrel too long during "All I Need Is the Girl." The sequence wasn't as effective as Danae Lowman and Greg Pschirrer more than four years ago at the Civic, when Kathie Doyle-Lipe choreographed a kind of parallel ghost dance to signal just how much Louise wanted to hit the road and join Tulsa's show.
For the Act One closer, Viverito chose a low horizon and huge cloudy sky to universalize Mama's longing. The boys quit, June has run off -- suddenly she turns to Louise as her meal ticket. The moment came too soon to register fully, though Halenda made a wonderful choice of remaining stock-still and slumped for about two minutes straight just after receiving June's goodbye letter. As Herbie, Nicholas Hamel also conveys much in his stillness. He's a calm, patient Herbie who adores Rose despite her many flaws, and he hangs in and hangs in with her until, in that Wichita bump-and-grind joint's dressing room, he just can't take anymore how Rose is pimping out her own daughter — and he explodes, and it's all the more effective because his Herbie has been mild-mannered until now.
"Everything's Coming Up Roses" was good but not great — we got Rose's exaltation, her stubborn refusal to give in, but somehow it lacked any might-go-off-the-deep-end mania and sense of tragedy. It was poignant -- we sensed that things were coming up roses for Rose, but not for Louise or Herbie — but it wasn't gut-wrenching.

The interlaced-arms threesome of Halenda, Dowse and Hamel was irresistible in "Together, Wherever We Go": She's taking them down a hopeless path, and they and we just don't care. It was infectious and buoyant. (Even if the "Toreadorables" number takes the cutesy vaudeville shtick one song too far.)
Three strippers with a "gimmick" -- always hilarious, somehow oddly self-assertive. Compare flaming gay men: Society demeans people like them, so they will respond by flaunting it right in society's collective faces. Straight men lust for what strippers have to display, then dispose of them like used Kleenex — so even strippers in the '40s just put it right out there. Bend over and blow that trumpet, baby, and make it phallic; satisfy and undermine desire at the same time. Rachel Abrams made much of sticking that trumpet right where the sun don't shine just before bending over and mouthing it, then blaring an off-key scream from between her legs. Abrams, with her thick thighs and rounded belly and big bazooms, was all snarling attitude. And she was a great Mazeppa.

The show's resolution came way too quickly; seemed almost like an afterthought.
Halenda made a great choice to start the "Mama's doin' fine ..." sequence from upstage center and stride boom-boom right toward the audience, then totter and weave as she loses grip on reality.
But after Rose's nearly going nuts, it was a quick entrance for Gypsy; "If I coulda, I woulda"; back to sanity, mom and daughter too quickly embrace, walk off arm in arm, with Rose casting a last longing look back at the world of the theater.
Choreographed curtain call ended with Rose in a spot, one arm extended toward the light, in a symbolic but probably too hokey here's-how-we-remember-Rose moment.
But what a show. They'll still be playing it another 50 years from now.


At February 22, 2008 3:14 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Patti LuPone opens as Rose at the St. James in NYC, with previews March 3 and opening March 27. Arthur Frickin' Laurents is directing.

At February 23, 2008 10:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

do not quite get the gay men reference.

At February 24, 2008 10:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should be something. An associate of Laurent's told me he wanted to do the show again so that the last telling of 'Gypsy' while he was on the earth would be his. Can't wait to see Patti Lupone tear into it.

At February 25, 2008 10:05 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

I wasn't clear. I believe there's a kind of parallel between gay men and strippers, in this sense: Both groups are ostracized, marginalized, looked down upon by mainstream society. And if the constant message from the majority is "You're not worthy of respect, you're not fully human," then one possible response is to say, in effect, fuck you: This is what I am and what I do, and I'm going to flaunt it and, at every opportunity, confront those who dismiss me and my sexuality. It's a form of fighting back against discrimination.
And this was an _angry_ Mazeppa: She may have to reveal herself (quite literally), but she's going to assert herself as fully human — quirky, defiant, idiosyncratic — in the face of all those drunken, stogie-smoking, bulldog-faced insurance salesmen out there in there in the 1940s burlesque audience who are practically drooling over a semi-nude woman while at the same time dismissing her as gutter trash.


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