BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut

With a minimalist set depicting an abandoned stage - brick wall, ladder, random set pieces, and a piano - Music Theatre of Connecticut begins its 30th season with the iconic musical, Gypsy. Written in 1959, Gypsy harnesses the dream-team creative talents of music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, plus the original production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. All of these legends combined certainly raises the bar for expectation, and therefore, this show can be a difficult one for any theatre to produce. All in all, MTC did a good job of presenting this whirlwind piece. You should go!

BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut
Kirsti Carnahan & Kate Simone as Mama Rose & Louise

Based loosely on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, aka Louise, who was a famous burlesque performer, the show mainly deals with the antics of her mother. Mama Rose, as she came to be known, was a hungry stage mother who had no limits when it came to finding fame. She put the mothers on "Toddlers and Tiaras" to shame. In fact, the show starts out with the feel of a children's beauty pageant, where Mama Rose is found hocking the highly rehearsed talents of her daughter, June, complete with brutal encouragement toward her child, and severe negotiations with the producers. This is our first glimpse into the steel-fisted, business-like relationship Rose had with her daughters throughout her life.

Unsurprisingly, Baby June leaves the act, upon which time, Rose enlists her other daughter, Louise. Initially, we saw Louise as a shrinking violet who is part of the background, but soon, her own talents emerge. The footlights fuel Louise's own desire for fame, and we see her grow to ultimately rise up to her mother. It's a compelling story, and one can understand how the writers envisioned it as a hit musical.

In MTC's production, Mama Rose is played by Kirsti Carnahan, who has a laundry list of impressive credits. She invokes the dynamic personality of Rose, showing her sides as a fierce business woman, a tyrannical manager, a manic dreamer, and an overwhelmed mother. In the humanity department, she created someone who truly thought she was being a good parent, despite everything she did that would suggest otherwise. In a way, Ms. Carnahan reminded me of Patti Lupone, who famously revived the role in 2008 on Broadway, while also channeling Ethel Merman, at times, with her fierce vibrato. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Carhanan after the Opening Night performance, and she was as passionate about the role as her character was on-stage.

BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut
Kirsti Carnahan as Mama Rose

Louise, or Gypsy Rose Lee, was delightfully played by Kate Simone, a very experienced talent who is making her MTC debut. She is also on the faculty at MTC's School of Performing Arts. Her singing voice is effortless and lovely, and her transformation from wallflower to powerhouse was seamless and strong.

The other roles were played well by the large cast, but there are always a couple of standouts - in this case, it was Joe Grandy, who played Tulsa, and Jodi Stevens, who played Mazeppa and Miss Crachitt. Mr. Grandy's Tulsa stole the show with his gorgeous, masculine look and his flawless tap dancing. Flawless! His singing voice was spectacular and his presence was dominant, yet despite his incredible performance, he still blended in with the ensemble and added to the story, rather than take away from it. He is a star to watch!

BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut
Joe Grandy as Tulsa

Ms. Stevens is no stranger to the MTC stage (last seen as Masha in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), and is often showcased in other professional appearances around Fairfield County, but I never cease to marvel at her ability to be chameleonic. In this show, she plays two characters, both completely different and memorable. She's a beautiful woman, as well, but that is only secondary to her talent. I spoke with her after this show, and was overjoyed to find her approachable, sweet, and humble. Connecticut audiences should seek out this local performer whenever possible.

BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut
Jodi Stevens as Mazeppa

In an article I wrote for Broadway World back in September 2014, Artistic Director, Kevin Connors, and Managing Director, Jim Schilling, both spoke strongly about their founding mission to run a fully professional theatre, using only Equity actors. Because of the large cast of Gypsy, Mr. Connors and Mr. Schilling agreed to hire two non-union local actors, Brittany Cattaruzza and Abby Root. Both are under an Equity contract and are earning points toward their AEA status, and both talented actresses are worthy of this honor. I know Ms. Root from other local theatre connections and spoke with her after the show. Growing up in the area, and working in local theatre, she said that, "It's always been my dream to work at MTC!" Ms. Root is also extremely enthusiastic about MTC's production because it is rare to see Gypsy in such an intimate space. "The smaller venue shows how well-written the show is. It's really a play with great music." There are also four fantastic children in the production who are non-union, but that is not unusual for any professional house.

Technically, the show did well, especially for a short rehearsal schedule leading up to Opening Night. The set, by Carl Tallent, was minimalist and highly functional, as his sets usually are for this 110 seat, three-quarter thrust theatre. Additionally, Diane Vanderkroef's costumes helped to remind the audience of the 1920-30 time-period, and the avant-garde costumes for the strippers, while written into the script, were awesome, helping to add to the comic relief of the characters. Lastly, the lights by Michael Blagys framed the playing space well, the choreography by Becky Timms was creative and fun, and the Music Direction by Thomas Martin Conroy was wonderful, as usual, especially for such a challenging, iconic score. The only shortcomings I could find in the technical arena involved the Sound Design and the Wig Design (Peggi de la Cruz), yet even in those shortcomings, there is room for forgiveness, and, in the end, these perceived problems, may not have been problems at all.

BWW Review: GYPSY at Music Theatre Of Connecticut
Carissa Massaro & Kate Simone as June & Louise

I found the wigs to be a bit ridiculous at times, especially on the Junes - Baby June and Older June. They were a mess of obviously fake platinum curls, that looked like they were purchased for a Halloween costume, however, I understand that this might have been a deliberate choice to make June's act over the top and to demonstrate how Mama Rose wanted to change who she was for the sake of fame. Additionally, Mama Rose's wig, while perfectly coiffed and appropriate for the time, just seemed misplaced on the actress's head, which was distracting at times. To connect the relationship with Mama Rose's wig and the sound problems, Rose wore her microphone inside the wig, rather than by her face, which caused me to have difficulty hearing her, despite her powerful belt and the small space. I know this choice was made for a specific reason (the entire mic pack is hidden inside the cap to allow for easier costume changes), but the other actors wore their mics closer to the mouth, so it created a contrast in the sound levels. That said, I will also say that I polled other audience members about this issue, and they said they hadn't noticed the problem, so perhaps I just need to get my ears checked!

In the end, I left the theatre feeling fully satisfied with my time spent and happy to have seen this show again. I highly recommend catching this show at this gem of a theatre before it closes. MTC's Gypsy is certain to "entertain you."

Gypsy runs through 25, 2016 (Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm) at MTC MainStage, 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk, CT. Tickets are $30-$55 and reservations are suggested. For more info, go to or call 203.454.3883

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From This Author Melinda Zupaniotis

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