Tovah Feldshuh, one of the hardest working actresses in stage, television and screen graces the stage at Bristol Riverside Theatre in the classic musical, GYPSY. GYPSY is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee the famous striptease artist, focusing on her mother Rose. Driving her children to succeed even though they were moderately talented, Rose was the ultimate stage mother, bullying and blustering her way along in her obsession to make her two daughters (first daughter June, then Rose) stars.
Ms. Feldshuh portrays Mme. Rose as a relentlessly driven woman, her frustrations over her own thwarted dreams of stardom pushing her children to perform in a vaudeville act that she wrote, directed, and choreographed. She meets and cajoles Herbie (Robert Newman) into being the agent for the act, and he stays with them for years out of love for Rose, alternately amused and amazed by her relentless drive to succeed. She hires three boys to work with the girls, then when the act breaks up and June leaves, she retools it for four girls and Louise. Their journey, which leads to them ending up as the comedy act in a burlesque house and Rose’s subsequent career move make up the story. The score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim has brought many classic songs to the stage, including Let Me Entertain You, Small World, Together Wherever We Go, and Everything’s Coming Up Roses.
Ms. Feldshuh is brilliant as Mme. Rose, her energy palpable onstage as she shows the passion her character has to succeed. Her final number Rose’s Turn is amazing as she expresses her anger and frustration at how her plans have been thwarted, as well as finally expressing her wishes to have been a star herself. She is joined in this production by television veteran Robert Newman, himself a very talented actor as Herbie, the candy salesman turned agent whose love for Rose makes him stay with them for many years in a hopeless attempt to get her to marry him. Amanda Rose is Louise, and does a wonderful job portraying the moderately talented girl who blossoms into the mega-star Gypsy Rose Lee. Other performances of note include Gaby Bradbury as Baby June (a terrific performance as the cloyingly cute “favored daughter”,) Joe Grandy as Tulsa (his singing and dancing skills are must-see,) and John Garry, Carl Nathaniel Smith and Jason Stump as the Farm Boys (amazing work in under-rated roles.)
The show is directed by Keith Baker, who does a fine job keeping the action moving and the energy at top levels throughout this very demanding production. The choreography by Kathryn Kendall is consistent with the times, the amateurish choreography of the vaudeville act through the brilliant feature numbers of the cast. The orchestra is led by Eric Knight Barnes, which supported the cast beautifully. Set design was by Nels Anderson, which was beautiful, but the dependence on the stage turntable for scene changes did bog down the action at times. Perhaps just having stage crew move in some of the smaller set changes would have kept the stage momentum going a bit better.
Ms. Feldshuh (in a phone interview with STAGE) describes Mme. Rose as the King Lear for women. She shows her skill and acting dexterity to its fullest in this role. GYPSY is a production that should not be missed. I wouldn’t wait to get tickets for this production…opening night was sold out, and the production promises many more filled houses.
Book by Authur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Keith Baker
Starring Tovah Feldshuh with Robert Newman
December 6, 2011-January 15, 2012
Bristol Riverside Theatre
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA 19007