Posted: Sunday, May 1, 2016 12:00 am
By Scott Michaels Special to the News & Record
I must confess up front, “Gypsy” is one of my favorite shows and has been referred to by many as the Great American Musical.
It is a show with a big cast, a lot of big, famous numbers, and the opportunity for multiple performers to have an opportunity to shine in featured roles. This makes it a perfect show for the Community Theatre of Greensboro, whose production opened Friday night at the Starr Theatre.
“Gypsy,” with music by Jule Stein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, premiered on Broadway in 1959. The show is loosely based on the memoirs of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. It tells the story of her circuitous rise to fame from being a young girl named Louise, who mainly supported her more talented sister Baby June, to being the most famous stripper and a major celebrity of her time.
“Gypsy” is set during the twilight of the vaudeville era, and many of the musical numbers are set on the vaudeville stages where her mother, Rose, is determined to make the sisters stars.
Rose, who famously says she “was born too soon and started too late,” is the ultimate stage mother and is one of the most iconic dream roles for actresses of a certain age. I was able to see the two most recent Broadway revivals, in 2003 featuring Bernadette Peters and in 2008 with Patti Lupone as Mama Rose. Frankly, I was not a fan of either performance. I set a high bar for “Gypsy.”
The talented local cast more than does the show justice. The young performers, led by Ella Howell as Baby June and Alexandra LeMerle-Mousset, are delightful as the journey begins in Act 1. Kerry Garner, as the teen June, is very good. Allison Henzler, as the teen Louise, delivers a lovely version of “Little Lamb,” a song where June wonders how old she really is. It’s a good question as Mama Rose fights to keep the girls and their act as children when in reality they are quickly growing up. Joe Collins, as Tulsa, does a very nice job with “All I Need is the Girl.”
When their act is mistakenly booked in a burlesque theater, some of the strippers quickly explain to them “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” Meredith Carson as Tessie Tura, Dia Adams as Electra, and especially S. Hale, in the show-stopping role of Mazeppa, are all excellent. Miranda Freeman as the emerging Gypsy Rose Lee is very good.
Pauline Cobrda takes on the challenging role of Mama Rose. She and the excellent Mark Armstrong, as Herbie, her love interest and the act’s reluctant manager, are very good in the scenes and numbers they share. Cobrda seemed to have some vocal challenges with some of the big numbers like “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Her performance was a little broad at times, but when she reaches her biggest number, “Rose’s Turn,” she really delivers, both as a singer and an actress.
Mitchell Sommers directs the show beautifully. The choreography, by Annie Norman, is excellent, as are the costumes by Mary Keilman and the set and lighting by David Bell.
Scott Michaels is a Greensboro Realtor, writer and lifelong supporter of the arts. Contact him at ScottMichaels100@gmail.com.
This News & Record arts coverage is supported by contributions to ArtsGreensboro’s Arts & Theatre Media Fund.
Want to go?
What: Community Theatre of Greensboro will present “Gypsy”
When: 7:30 p.m. May 4-7 and 11-14 and 2 p.m. May 1, 8 and 15
Where: Starr Theatre, 520 S. Elm St., Greensboro