There are many who call GYPSY the greatest American musical of all time, and with good reason. Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s songs have become standards for cabarets and auditions, and the show has had no fewer than four revivals on Broadway alone, most recently in 2008. It’s an understatement, then, to mention it’s a bold choice to perform the mostly true story of Gypsy Rose Lee and her ultimate stage mom. Pierrot Productions puts on a solid production of GYPSY at the Kelsey Theatre, albeit a simple one.
Although the plot follows the eponymous burlesque star Gypsy, born Louise (Lisa Diaz as a child, Jenna Scanelli as a young woman), it’s her mother, Rose (Pamela Jorgenson) who is the diva of GYPSY. She traipses around the country attempting to elevate her “talented” daughter, June (Grace Matwijec as a child, Caitlin Sprang as a young woman), to stardom through a vaudeville act that goes from cute to campy as the years pass. When June runs away with Tulsa the chorus boy (Samuel Spare) in her teenage years, Rose is forced to make Louise the star of the tired act and eventually drives her daughter into the striptease that makes her a star.
The set on the Kelsey Theatre stage is austere to the point of looking incomplete, and the pieces that come in to “transform” it into various apartments and dressing rooms do little to hide the hulking platform in the background. Lights also didn’t aid this suspension of disbelief, as the harsh tones and erratic spotlights seemed to highlight the set’s shortcomings. However, the cast capably provides the energy and vocal prowess the music requires.
Pamela Jorgenson channels the best modern Roses, Midler and LuPone, in her interpretation of the indomitable stage mother. Her character voice is distinct, although sometimes quiet, and she drives the audience to simultaneously hate and pity Rose. She owns the stage during the anthemic “Rose’s Turn,” when she dominates the theater both physically and vocally as she finally comes into her own.
Rose’s daughters, both as children and young adults, were cast perfectly. Lisa Diaz and Grace Matwijec are precociously endearing as “baby” Louise and June, respectively; both girls, along with the rest of the child ensemble, have long acting careers ahead of them. Caitlin Sprang gives June the appropriate blend of bratty and sympathetic, and Jenna Scanelli transitions beautifully, if a little abruptly, from the mousy Louise into the brash Gypsy Rose Lee, queen of burlesque. The chemistry between Sprang and Scanelli makes their duet “If Momma Was Married” one of the best moments of the show. Worth noting in the supporting cast are Tom Chiola as Herbie, the workhorse agent tirelessly pursuing Rose’s heart, and the three older chorus boys, L.A. (William Burke), Yonkers (Wesley Cappiello), and Tulsa (Samuel Spare), who steals the whole act with his phenomenal song-and-dance combo of “All I Need Is The Girl.”
This spare production of GYPSY does the classic justice, at least as far as the actors’ performances are concerned. Set aside things remembered from past films or Broadway revivals, and the show entertains you as promised vehemently by June in the opening number.
by Arthur Laurents (book), Jule Styne (music), and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics)
Directed by Pete LaBriola
March 15-24, 2013
at Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NJ 08550