BWW Reviews: GYPSY at Signature Theatre - Everything's Coming up Roses
"May we entertain you?
May we make you smile...
I'll tell you a story...
By the time we're through
You'll have a barrel of fun!"
These are the first lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim for GYPSY's very first number "May We Entertain You". The We included composer Jule Styne, book by Arthur Laurents, and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and they entertain so well, many believe that GYPSY may very well be the finest musical ever.
Playing in the Signature's MAX Theatre, thanks to clever set design by James Kronzerd (I loved his additions of lighting to the mezzanine to make the theater look like a music hall), when the superb overture begins, the 11 musicians appear above the stage behind a see-through scrim with Conductor/Pianist Jon Kalbfleisch behind the piano facing the audience with the orchestra on both sides of him. If the audience could play instruments and have the music, we could have played along. It was such a delight to be able to see Kalbfleisch work his magic with what many consider the best overture in Broadway history. (After the show Kalbfleisch informed me he agreed.) While the overture is playing, Lighting Designer Chris Lee used various colors during each melody, a wonderful idea.
As Sondheim discusses in the wonderful HBO Documentary "Six by Sondheim" directed by James Lapine, GYPSY was written for the great Ethel Merman and it was Merman who said NO to Sondheim writing both the lyrics and the music. According to Merman, he was still too much of a risk. That is why Styne was brought in to write the music. Sondheim stayed on to write the clever lyrics.
GYPSY did not capture the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1960. It lost to THE SOUND OF MUSIC and FIORELLO who tied for the Award. It's been revived four times on Broadway in 1974 (Angela Lansbury), 1989 (with Tyne Daly), 2003 (with Bernadette Peters) and I was fortunate to see the incredible Patti LuPone in the leading role in 2008.
Signature Artistic Associate Joe Calarco was handed the task of directing GYPSY (I remember his URINETOWN fondly). Before the opening, he commented, "I couldn't be more excited to direct GYPSY. Sherri (Edelen) and I have talked about doing the show together for years. It's really been a dream of ours to tackle it together, so I couldn't be more thrilled."
And Sherri L. Edelen has given the performance of a lifetime as Momma Rose. She's nasty, powerful, poignant, lovable, hated, naive, full of chutzpah and what a voice. Remember, this role was written for Ethel Merman and Edelin nails it. Wait until you hear her renditions of the classic tunes: "Some People", "Small World", "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You", "You'll Never Get Away from Me", "Together Wherever We Go", the finale from Act I, "Everything"s Coming Up Roses" and the famous 11 o'clock number to end the show "Roses Turn". She is worth the price of admission. For this number, the orchestra suddently reappears above the stage. A nice touch.
Director Calarco has assembled a talented cast. Baby June (Erin Cearlock) and Baby Louise (Ellen Roberts) open the show and they are wonderful. The transition between the young actress and their older versions is very cleverly done with strob lights.The olderJune played by Nicole Mangi (who appeared on Broadway in the Patti LuPone version) and Louise, Maria Rizzo, shine. I just loved their duet "If Momma Was Married" and Rizzo's heart-rendering "Little Lamb".
Certainly one of the highlights of the evening (the play needed a little comic relief) is the delightful "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" with Donna Migliaccio (Mazzepa), Sandy Bainum (Tessie Tura), and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Electra).
Playing the role of Herbie is Mitchell Hebert, the former candy salesman turned agent who's desire is to marry Rose. And the role of Tulsa, who gets to sing and dance his heart away in one of my favorite numbers "All I Need Is the Girl" is Vincent Kempski.
Karma Camp once again adds superb choreography, Lane Elms is responsible for the excellent sound, and Frank Labovitz did the lovely costumes.
Do not miss this rendition of GYPSY. I can't imagine another production like it. There's even a special New Year's Eve performance with after the show with hors d'oeuvres and dancing.
For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.