GYPSY has been called by some critics and writers “the greatest musical of the twentieth century.” It’s a little early to tell, but if the production at Haddon Township’s Ritz Theatre is any indication, it may also be the greatest musical of the twenty-first century. In addition to its memorable songs, it has unforgettable characters and a great story.
It is not so much about Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist (at least until the second ac), as about her mother, Mama Rose. She is the epitome of stage mothers, trying to make her two daughters into vaudeville stars. The era is the early 1920s, when vaudeville was king of entertainment. Carol Furphy-Labinski is Mama Rose. Her younger daughter, billed as “Baby June” ((Katelyn Gallo, Cambria Klein), is the star of the show, singing and dancing away with her blonde curls and voluminous skirts bouncing. Her older sister, Baby Louise (Jamieson O’Brien, Emily Jenkins) is content to wear boys’ clothes and join the chorus of “newsboys” in the act. After the show, Rose meets an old friend and manager, Herbie (Michael Doheny). He becomes the act’s agent–and Rose’s boyfriend.
Years pass, children grow up, and vaudeville begins to fade. June (now played by Colleen Murphy) wants to go to acting school, but her mother refuses. June tells her how she feels about the vaudeville act and leaves. Herbie tries to convince Rose to marry him and settle down, but she refuses, and he also leaves. Rose still refuses to give up, assuring Louise that “Everything’s Coming up Roses”. She gathers some of the vaudeville girls together with Louise (now played by Jennie Knackstedt) and creates a new act called “Rose-Louise and her Hollywood Blondes”. They eventually get a booking, but end up at the wrong theatre–a burlesque house. The rest, of course, is show business history.
Furphy-Labinski is magnificent as Mama Rose. Whether she is a likable character or not, you have to admire her. Kneckstedt, as Louise/Gypsy Rose, is simply wonderful. Murphy, Doheny, the child actresses–all the cast is perfect, and many of them play multiple roles. Try to count the number of characters played by Glen Funkhouser. And, of course, everything could not have come together without the fabulous director, Bruce A. Curless (who also designed the set) and his crew, including music/vocal director Andre Vermeulen, lighting designer Chris Muller, sound designer Matthew Gallagher, costume designer Rob Paluso, and Choreographer David Perscica.
Curtain up! Light the lights!
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Bruce A. Curless
Music/Vocal Direction by Andre Vermeulen
Choreography by David Perscica
October 30-November 23, 2014
Ritz Theatre Company
915 White Horse Pike
Haddon Township, New Jersey