Aired on KSDS-FM on 8/26/16
RUN DATES: 7/14/16 – 9/4/16
VENUE: Cygnet Theatre
There are stage mothers and Tiger Moms, helicopter mommies and non-maternalistic narcissists. And then there’s Mama Rose, who out-smothers ‘em all.
“Gypsy” is a brilliant musical, with a legendary creative team: book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It nominally tells of the evolution and rise of world-renowned ecdysiast (that’s a highfalutin’ term for stripper, as she informs us) Gypsy Rose Lee. But the spotlight is never off her mother – the clawing, pushy, manipulative, delusional, self-serving stage mother from hell.
The Cygnet Theatre production has a dark take on the material, minimizing the heart and humor. This Rose is desperate from the get-go, ruthless and implacable.
Linda Libby, biting into this succulent, oversized role for the second time (first at ion theatre, five years ago), digs deeper, but she’s so steely, there’s little room for charm or warmth, which makes it hard to be drawn to her. We can’t buy her professed love for her daughters. All we see is her ferocious ambition – and her own rapacious need. Still, in Libby’s committed, driven performance, Rose is a force of nature – a tsunami that swallows up everyone in her path.
Allison Spratt Pearce is magnificent as long-suffering Louise, the forgotten child, an awkward duckling who miraculously transforms and takes flight as Gypsy Rose Lee. Manny Fernandes is terrific as Herbie, Rose’s manager/boyfriend who tolerates her mishegas for far too long, until he, too, snaps. Then like her beloved daughter June – in a nicely layered performance by Katie Whalley Banville – Herbie deserts her, as have her three prior husbands. This is a woman who doesn’t need anyone, except an audience… and that, she can only get vicariously, which isn’t half enough.
The rest of the cast, including the early-scene kids, is excellent, especially quick-change, multi-character chameleon David Kirk Grant, and the three “gimmicky” strippers.
Jeanne Reith’s costumes are a hoot for the children and stunners for Gypsy. Music director Terry O’Donnell’s wonderful six-piece orchestra sounds two or three times its size.
Director Sean Murray puts his signature spin on the proceedings, and makes it all sing. But in the end, the show has become as grimly relentless as Rose herself.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews