Signature Theatre GypsyBy David Siegel • Dec 26th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Signature Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through January 26th
3:00 with one intermission
$29-$79 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed December 22nd, 2013
Is she ever in charge! Have no doubts, Sherri Edelen has put her own brassy, striving take on that ultimate theater mother, Mamma Rose, in Joe Calarco’s interpretation of Gypsy, A Musical Fable at Signature Theatre. Edelen makes quite clear in her song stylizations, her physical presence and a “wearing down” of everything in her path, that she is the domineering hardnosed presence called Momma Rose.
Momma Rose may be self-delusional, but she is a most fascinating character. We know what will ultimately happen, but we want to witness it to see how the magic is accomplished by director Joe Calarco and Edelen. The storyline is set in the 1920s, as the vaudeville circuit is coming to a close as a source of live entertainment. Momma Rose wants to boost her two daughters to childhood stardom. There are plenty of impediments along the way, including the desertion of the talented younger daughter June (Nicole Mangi). What happens next leads to the unexpected creation of famed burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee (Maria Rizzo). But, oh what an absorbing musical journey.
Your writer went back to some of the original writings by Gypsy Rose Lee that later became the fodder for the 1959 musical by Arthur Laurents (book), Jule Styne (music), and Stephen Sondeheim (music and lyrics) and choreography by Jerome Robbins. He located three autobiographical essays written by Gypsy Rose Lee in the 1943 The New Yorker. Here is the first line of the first essay published on April 10, 1943. “Mother’s mind was made up. Her daughters were going to have theatrical careers” wrote Lee.
And then this succinct description of her intrusive mother, “mother was always in the wings, prompting.” wrote Lee. She was “ruthless.” Wow. Speak of a mother-daughter relationship.
Edelen makes it work and seem real. She is yapping constantly, rarely silent. She is a whirlwind; pushing always pushing, from the moment we meet her coming down the theater aisle giving loud stage directions to her young daughters up on the stage where they are auditioning. Edelen will not be stopped with her hell-bent ways. For nearly three hours, the audience witnesses an old-fashioned Broadway tour-de-force lead by a single-minded actor with the necessary energy and purpose.
There is one major obstacle for Momma Rose that Edelen makes sure is not missed. It is a slight stammer of self-doubt as some self- awareness of herself appears. It comes as she is in the middle of the Act II final song, “Rose’s Turn.” A stammer, a little hic-up, of the letter “m” in Momma “M-M-Momma.” It slows her fierceness giving a sense of her vulnerability as she breakdowns pleading “Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? Don’t I get a dream for myself?”
Calarco, a multi-Helen Hayes recipient has made his vision one of a fast train moving down the tracks gathering speed. Music director Jon Kalbfleisch, with his 11 piece orchestra, leads a spirited, brassy musical attack matching Edelen’s vocal presence. Styne’s musical sense is of kicky vaudeville, and thrusting boosts of a burlesque style that carries the audience along. It is a constant stimulating overdrive of music.
Multiple Helen Hayes awardee James Kronzer developed a set design, with lights by Chris Lee and sound by Lane Elms, that has the audience witnessing the production unfold as if watching a play-within-a-play. There are footlights, curtains, set pieces and props moved by actors into and out of view in brown outs smoothly accompanied by musical snippets.
There is little static in production including the movements choreographed by Karma Camp. Frank Labovitz’s costume design successful in conveys the spirit of the characters; even those who are seen for a moment and then are gone from sight like the newsboys and the farm boys. Edelen is clothed in matronly shirt waist dresses and clunky shoes. But her own full figure comes through conveying a power within.
Anne Nesmith, wig designer, certainly had a great deal to do with the transformation of Louise to Gypsy. She first has Louise in an uncomely brunette, Dutch bob that remains until she is transformed into Gypsy Rose, hair piled up to accentuate her creamy skinned shoulders, cheekbones, and glorious smile.
Maria Rizzo as Louise is effective, yet seems a bit too invisible. Her transformation to become Gypsy Rose Lee seems just too quick. Yet, when she performs “Let Me Entertain You” as the penultimate number, it is as if she grew a foot, became statuesque, maturing into a totally different body. She becomes a sensual tease, like a young new bride on her wedding night, decked out in new lingerie provided by her girl friends at her bridal shower to entice and be admired.
Mitchell Herbert as Herbie is effective as well, as a mousy man who take a long while to finally stand up to Mamma Rose. There is plenty of comic work in this musical family saga. Rather than the three witches of Macbeth we have three strip-tease artists, each with her own heart of gold and her own “gimmick.” They are Sandy Bainum (Tessa Tura, a caring butterfly who is the stimulant in the invention of the stage name Gypsy Rose Lee), Donna Miglaccio (the trumpet playing Mazeppa), and Tracy Lynn Olivera (as a fat suited electric lighted, Electra). Carolyn Cole, in a non-singing role, lights up her scene work as two different characters, Agnes and then Renee, with a way of inflecting her few lines and standing around to be bullied in a way that just draws eyes to her.
As for particular songs that caught your reviewer’s ear. “Some People,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” are each delivered by Edelen with the audience bound to each word and syllable she sings. Her vocal delivery had the audience lean forward not to miss a word, an inflection, or a movement. “Together Wherever We Go” provides a lovely sweetness to the proceedings as the trio of Rose, Herbie and Louise give some hints of truly caring for each other.
And then there is the arc of the show in two songs, “May We Entertain You?” sung by Baby June and Baby Louise with its “may I” type question to the audience, to the penultimate, “Let Me Entertain You” sung by the newly transformed Gypsy. It is a definitive declaration of her new persona. It is the anthem of separation and new birth.
Edelen gives her heart out in her performance as Rose in Gypsy, A Musical Fable. To use a sports analogy, she leaves everything on the field. What more can any audience ever want? We root for that each time we go to the theater. This time, we get it.
Photos by Teresa Wood
- Tessie Tura: Sandy Bainum
- Baby June: Erin Cearlock
- Agnes, Renee, Ensemble: Carolyn Cole
- Uncle Jocko, Weber, Mr. Goldstone, Pastey, Bourgeron-Cochon: Steven Cupo
- Balloon Girl: Grace Doughty
- Rose: Sherri L. Edelen
- George, Yonkers, Ensemble: Samuel Edgerly
- Miss Cratchitt, Marjorie May, Ensemble: Alyssa Gagarin
- Herbie: Mitchell Hébert
- Tulsa: Vincent Kempski
- June, Dance Captain: Nicole Mangi
- Pop, Kringelein, Cigar, Phil: Dan Manning
- Mazeppa: Donna Migliaccio
- Newsboy: Ethan Miller
- L.A. Ensemble: Gannon O’Brien
- Electra: Tracy Lynn Olivera
- Newsboy: John Ray
- Louise: Maria Rizzo
- Baby Louise: Ellen Roberts
- Newsboy: Eli Schulman
- Angie, Ensemble: Joseph Tudor
- Director: Joe Calarco
- Music Director: Jon Kalbfleisch
- Choreographer: Karma Camp
- Scenic Design: Jim Kronzer
- Costume Design: Frank Labovitz
- Lighting Design: Chris Lee
- Sound Design: Lane Elms
- Production Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10010.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.