Review: Everything’s Not Coming Up Roses for Gypsy
After my delightful evening at Front Row Centre’s Assassins in January, I was really looking forward to wrapping up Calgary Musical Theatre Month with their production of Gypsy (or, as it was originally called, Gypsy: A Musical Fable), a show I’d never seen but which is often touted as one of the best American musicals of all time. I missed the show when Front Row Centre did it in 2001. Of course, I knew the big songs, “Let Me Entertain You”, and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and that it’s a semi-autobiographical story about the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her stagemother-from-hell, but that’s about it.
Gypsy was written by the powerhouse team of Jule Styne (music), Stephen Sondheim, (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book), the latter two of whom wrote West Side Story with Leonard Bernstein. Producer/director/choreographer Jerome Robbins (who also did West Side Story) approached Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to write the music for Gypsy, but they turned him down. He then approached Stephen Sondheim, but Merman didn’t want to do a show with an unknown composer and insisted on Styne, who was a big name at that time. Sondheim’s mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II convinced him to do the lyrics after he initially refused, and the rest is musical theatre history. (This was the last show for which Sondheim didn’t write his own music, and that, too, is musical theatre history).
Gypsy has its charms but I definitely wouldn’t put it on my list of favourite musicals, unless, perhaps, in the hands (or pipes) of Merman or one of the other great leading ladies who have carried the dream role of the overbearing Mama Rose on Broadway or London’s West End (e.g. Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly or Bernadette Peters), since she dominates not just her daughters, but the entire show. I found Act I to be overly long, and I thought that if I have to hear “Let Me Entertain You” one more time, I was going to scream like Rose (competently played by Tarra Lois Riley, one of the more experienced actors in the cast). Things picked up in Act II, but I still felt there was a lot more repetition than absolutely necessary.
There were some bright lights in this production. Emily Dallas (Gypsy) and Taryn Craig (Dainty June) were brilliant, as were their younger selves, Nicole Furan (Little Louise) and Eden Nielson (Baby June). These young ladies are all great singers, actors and dancers (“triple-threats”, as they say in the business) who definitely have a future on stage - if their mothers don’t push them over the edge ;). I also quite enjoyed the dancing by the newsboy/farmboy choruses (both young and older) and Jarryd Baine as Tulsa (Director Angela Woodard was also the choreographer). And I thought Paul Hilton’s lighting was quite effective, especially in the scene in which they used strobe lighting to transition from the young characters to the older characters.
While this performance didn’t turn my crank, none of my six buddies from the Calgary Musicals Meetup Group agreed – including the brave young Dutch tourist I met on the plane from Houston only a few hours before, whom I convinced to get in a car and come to the show with me (something which would have made my mother proud, and horrified my husband). In fact, when asked, several of them gave Gypsy a ranking of 8/10, which just proves how you should take reviews, including my own, with a grain of salt.
Gypsy runs until June 13th at the Pumphouse Theatre. Tickets are $19-22. (We were lucky/smart enough to go on “Tightwad Wednesday”, on which tickets are only $12 – one of the best deals in Calgary musical theatre other than pay-what-you-can-performances. Watch for a future post on “Musicals for Misers”). For more information or tickets go to FRONT ROW CENTRE.