“Sing out, June! Sing out, Louise!” “Let me entertain you, and we’ll have a real good time, yessir…” Gypsy, one of the biggest, brashest, boldest and best-loved musicals of all time, features a Broadway star and an excellent ensemble in its current incarnation at 6th Street Playhouse. The vaudeville show-within-a-show promises entertainment, and you’ll no doubt find the show delivers on that promise in a big, bold way.
Kathy Fitzgerald, Broadway veteran having originated roles for The Producers and 9 to 5, the Musical and starred in others, takes a break from her current tour with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in order to play Momma Rose for 6th Street. Rose is the most complex female character in musical theatre, and Fitzgerald hits all the emotional nuances of the role as well as belting those memorable songs— “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and the brilliant “Rose’s Turn.”
Rose’s dreams for her daughters include fame, fortune, and stardom, and prove elusive despite her pushy determination. Baby June (a delightful Gigi Bruce-Low) and Young Louise (Cecilia Brenner showing off her talents once again) become Dainty June (terrific Melody Payne) and Louise (fabulous Carmen Mitchell), growing up in vaudeville without achieving the Bigtime that Rose covets. Rose corrals Herbie (fatherly gentleman Roger Michelson) into being their agent and den-father on the road but avoids marrying him as promised.
When it all starts to fall apart, Rose makes one last stab at stardom for Louise, pushing her onto a burlesque stage— with both disastrous and surprising results. As Louise breaks away from Momma, Rose finally wonders what— and who— she has done it all for. Bernadette Peters noted, “There is a vulnerability to Rose that makes her human, not just some loud and cartoonish parody of a stage mother." Based on the memoirs of famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, the musical’s book captures the drive and the heartbreak of the ultimate stage mom, proving a cautionary tale for those who would live through their children.
Director Jared Sakren assembles a fine cast for this production, including many talented children and a fun gathering of character actors for the adult roles. The principals are all superb— I especially enjoyed Mitchell’s layered, sweet performance as Louise, and here she gets to display her fine dancing skills as well as her lovely vocals. She’s well-matched by thoroughly entertaining Payne as June, and their duet on “If Momma Was Married” is a treat. Michelson deserves kudos in a somewhat hapless role, making us wish Rose would give in and marry the nice guy. Other standouts include Guy Conner in multiple roles and the three burlesque dancers: Tracy Hinman, Lillian Myers, and Elaine Jennings delight the audience with their energetic ode to gimmicks.
Music direction by Paul Smith keeps the band and vocals strong, with good tempo. Scenic design by Jason Jamerson looks persistently drab and oddly amateurish but does manage many varied locations. Some scene changes take too long and drag the action. Costumes by Pamela Johnson must be an incredible challenge, with so many demands for different outfits for each performer, including Louise’s numerous gowns. Johnson manages several periods and styles and even a cow with great effect— a real achievement. April George gives us vaudeville and backstage and solo spotlights with aplomb.
An iconic American musical with a stellar history, Gypsy can steal your heart while you least expect it. It’s a big show, with terrific performances, well worth your entertainment dollar.
— Jeanie Smith
Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by June Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Presented by 6th Street Playhouse through Oct. 20, 2019
Thu at 7:30pm, Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $35-$48; Senior, Under-30, and Group discounts
6th Street Playhouse, G.K. Hardt Theater
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 523-4185 ext 1
Photos by Eric Chazankin