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BWW Reviews: GYPSY at Maine State Music Theatre; Greatest American Musical is MORE Than Great at MSMT

"Sing out, Louise!!". This phrase has been part of theatre lexicon for more than 50 years. Almost having become an inside joke, and used by directors, choreographers and actors to coax performers into giving it their all. Throughout GYPSY's storied history, it has been produced numerous times across this country; the "greatest American musical" is also often referred to as a "perfect" musical. And Maine State Music Theatre's current production of GYPSY is just that: perfect.

Based on the memoirs of the late Burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, the story centers more around Gypsy's mother Madame Rose. After Lee's successful memoir was published and movie rights were offered and turned down, Lee opted instead to lend her story to the theatre. The official title, GYPSY: A Musical Fable was a concession to her sister June Havoc (born Hovick) who threatened to sue if the show was presented as absolute truth. Lee's story has gone on to become a mainstay of American musical theatre, and it's little wonder why. With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (Ethel Merman, the original Mama Rose, was reticent to let an "unknown" composer write the music for her "comeback" musical, so Mr. Sondheim's compositions would have to wait) and directed/choreographed by the incomparable Jerome Robbins. Surprisingly, the original Broadway production garnished many Tony nominations but won none; the star of the 1960 Tony Awards was Sound Of Music. After a respectable 2 year run, the original production closed, but has gone on to be revived 4 times in the nearly 60 years that followed. Most recently in 2008, when Pattie LuPone, Boyd Gains and Laura Benanti all brought home Tony's. The 1962 motion picture brought home not a single statue, but with Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose and Natalie Wood in the title role, it has become an American classic regardless.

With this much history and so many award winning performers having tread the boards in these roles, it might present a theatre and director with a challenge as to how to "reinvent" this piece; MSMT's production does just that. With amazing and inspired sets by Thomas M. Ryan, the show takes on a whole new light. Mr. Ryan uses translucent flats that allow the audience to see Mama Rose (Charis Leos) watching her girls in the wings; perhaps my favorite part of the set. His use of simple muslin and wood sets harken back to Vaudeville, and their double sides become not only useful, but establish from the first rise of the curtain that the audience will be seeing into the backstage world of the theatre. Complimenting the sets is Dan Walker's brilliant lighting design; with Vaudeville-esque footlights on the front AND back of the set, a rainbow of colors and the eye-popping "Gypsy Rose Lee" sign that makes it's appearance in Act II, he creates a world that you don't want to leave or blink for fear of missing something. Kurt Alger's stunning costumes cannot be left to a footnote either. His treatment of Caroline (the cow) to make her look as though Mama and her girls had made her from leftover material is evidence of the designer's well thought out design and execution. As are all of the "show" costumes the performers don in the Vaudeville sequences. But truly amazing are the elegant gowns GYPSY (Missy Dowse) wears. Making her transformation from one striptease to the next a marvel you must see for yourself.

Dominic Missimi's direction and MSMT favorite Raymond Marc Dumont's choreography might very well be the stars of the show. The two men worked tirelessly to create a cohesive piece, where it's hard to believe that each element was created by a separate person. Mr. Missimi keeps Mamma Rose in the wings or onstage for nearly all of the production, illustrating just how overly involved she was in her children's lives. And Mr. Dumont makes the risky move as he faces GYPSY upstage for one of her strips; his move pays off, giving variance to a sequence that some may find boring or monotonous. The jewel of the show for Mr. Dumont however, is his choreography for Tulsa (Tyler Haines) in "All I Need Is The Girl". The complex and extremely difficult sequence is a highlight of the show, because Mr. Dumont catered to Mr. Haines strength and talent; something all dancers yearn for.

MSMT favorite (and it's CLEAR why) Charis Leos as Mama Rose is a veritable tornado of energy and has everything in her bag of tricks you could ever ask for in a performer. Her voice is big, brassy and clear as a bell. Her mile-a-minute delivery of lines is not only appropriate and believable (sometimes frighteningly so) she takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions with seeming ease. She joins a long line of esteemed actresses in this role, and her name belongs right beside Merman, Peters, Lansbury and LuPone. Stunning, heartfelt and inspired are the only way to describe Ms. Leos' performance.

Rose's manager turned love interest Herbie (David Girolmo) delivers a standout performance in his own right. It would be easy for Mr. Girolmo to portray Herbie as the ho-hum, tread upon man he often is. Instead, he brings a strength to the role that only increases as his ability to deal with Rose's antics diminishes. Though his singing voice only rears it's beauty a few times, it matches his counterpart's in strength and gorgeous tone. Equally powerful and heartbreaking is his decision to leave Rose, and Mr. Girolmo gives it the weight and care it deserves and then some.

Missy Dowse as GYPSY is astonishing. She makes the transformation from tomboy to reluctant star to elegant Burlesque queen with such ease; and the audience can't help but fall in love with her. You feel for her every moment and with every insult her mother throws her way, and you rejoice when she finally stands up to her. Her depth of emotion is felt all the way to the back wall, and when she says the now famous "I'm a pretty girl, mama" I guarantee you will shed a tear.

The pint sized dynamo Cary Michele Miller as June is delightful as she belts and kicks her way into the audience's hearts. She longs for a life out from under her mother's thumb, and you feel for her as deeply as you do for GYPSY. Tyler Haines is nothing short of astounding as Tulsa. His character allows him only a short time to shine, but he leaves an impression that will not soon be forgotten. His marvelous dancing skills shine in "All I Need Is The Girl", as does his gorgeous tenor voice. It's a wonder he has any breath at all to sing; a tribute to his dedication and hard work at his craft.

Stars of the Burlesque, Tessi Tura (Susan Cella), Electra (Heidi Kettenring) and Mazeppa (Abby C. Smith) steal the show with their "You Gotta Get A Gimmick". Helped by Mr. Alger's awe-inspiring costumes, these ladies need no help in leaving the audience wanting more. Ms. Cella's lewd character is hilarious yet endearing, and the finale of her dance stops the number. Ms. Kettenring's quirky and laugh-out-loud Electra is so different from any other portrayal you have ever seen that it begs for applause and praise. And Ms. Smith's turn as the trumpet wielding Miss Mazeppa is sassy, uproariously funny and commanding.

The adults in this show aren't the only ones who shine. Madeleine Blakemore as Baby Louise and Julia Yameen as Baby June light up the stage like the 4th of July. Their talent at such a young age is something to behold. Ms. Blakemore's characterization of oft-forgotten Louise is the corner stone on which Ms. Dowse's GYPSY is built; not an easy job for a young actress. And Ms. Yameen's powerful voice and ridiculous dance technique leave you almost wishing the girls didn't grow up. Their young counterparts Jacqueline Brochu, Jonah Daiute, Jacquelyn Ellsworth, AiDan Gallagher, Molly Palese, Julian Ray and Alec Shiman will melt your heart and show you just what a talented group of young actors are capable of.

The backbone of this production is the ensemble, playing countless roles and making the transition from scene to scene seamless. Joe Becherer, Michaela K. Boissonneault, Mary Beth Donahoe, Laurel Haitoff, Michael Notardonato, Jericah Jo Potvin (watch for her as the loveable Agnes) and Blake Stadnik all have their moment to shine. As do Glenn Anderson as Mama Rose's father and Kringelein, Chuck Ragsdale as Uncle Jocko/Mr. Goldstone/Pastey (a standout performance from another MSMT favorite), Michael Biren as Yonkers, Jimmy McDonald as L.A. and Steve Calzaretta as Weber/Cigar.

GYPSY has become a beloved piece of musical theatre for a reason; it is a timeless story filled with laughs, drama, heartbreak, glitz and glamour. Maine State Music Theatre's current production shows just why this amazing show has stood the test of time, and why it will never leave our hearts. For tickets and more information on this CAN'T MISS production, please visit www.msmt.org.

Photo credit: Audra Hatch Photography



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From This Author Scott Moreau

Scott is from Litchfield, ME and holds a BFA in Music Theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University. After a lifelong dream of being a professional baseball (read more...)