BWW Interview: 6 Questions & a Plug with GYPSY's Peter Rothstein

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Peter Rothstein. In Minneapolis Saint Paul theatre circles, this is a name you've likely heard and read countless times in recent years. Named the Star Tribune Artist of the Year for 2015 recently was just one of his many accolades, and his productions have been receiving raving reviews and standing ovations on the area stages for such shows as OLIVER!, SWEENEY TODD and a stellar production of CABARET, to name but a few.

Next to the Joes at the Big G across town, Rothstein is indeed one of the best known directors in the area. So, getting to talk to him a little about the next collaboration between his Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust, GYPSY, is a great opportunity to learn more about his vision and process for the show, which opens Feb. 20 at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Get a glimpse into Rothstein's thoughts in this 6 Questions & a Plug:

Let's start with something I've often wondered: when I read a production has been "re-imagined," I am curious what that means. Could you describe how the Theater Latté Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust shows are "re-imagined," and specifically how that is applying to GYPSY?

I think the original production of a Broadway musical, especially if it's a success, leaves an indelible mark on the piece. The work of the original creative team (designers, directors, choreographers...) often has a lasting impact on a given work. It's hard to imagine A CHORUS LINE without gold top-hats and tails for example, or LES MISERABLES without a revolving stage. With Broadway Reimagined we try to approach the conceptual process as if it were a brand new musical, honoring the work's history but, hopefully, realizing it in a new light.

How do you choose which shows you will stage each year with Hennepin Theatre Trust; is this a collaborative decision or do you get to determine which shows you think will be the next big thing in the Twin Cities?

It is a collaborative process between the two organizations.

From what I've read you like to do shows that you find relevant for the current times - how is GYPSY that for us right here, right now?

There are some shows that have a specific simpatico with a given moment in history and other shows that I believe transcend time. In my opinion, GYPSY is the latter. While it is centered around a singular family and a distinct period in history, I believe the story is a fascinating exploration of the American psyche. What exactly is the American Dream and how is it intrinsically linked to fame and fortune? What is the line of separation between a parent's dream for their children and the children's own aspirations?

You are performing in the not-often-used Pantages Theatre, a former Vaudeville house that's celebrating its centennial this year, and using painted backdrops, which I actually find I miss in this age of digital video screens and multimedia productions. Tell me how you're taking advantage of these things with this show that takes place during the same period. Will audiences feel transported to the time and place of Gypsy Rose Lee?

I often begin the design process by asking my team, if the characters were left to their own devices what tools would they have to tell their story? We know Mama Rose and her children traveled by train with all of scenery and costumes packed in old steam trunks for most of their career. Our production embraces that reality. Mama Rose's luggage is omnipresent in our production; a vaudevillian parallel to Mother Courage and her cart. The Pantages Theatre has 35 batons in its fly loft, all intended for painted scenery. We use every one of them in this production to carry painted drops that are based on historical research and period advertisements.

We also expose the entire stage and all of its mechanics. There are no curtains masking the sides of the stage; the audience can see all of the scenery and props waiting in the wings as well as the crew pulling the ropes to fly the scenery in and out. There is also no masking above the stage so all of the scenery is exposed in its "out" position high above the stage.

We are quite certain that Baby June and her Newsboys performed at this theater while touring the Pantages circuit. The production often has a haunting quality, as if we are conjuring their ghosts, welcoming them back to this incredible room.

You've also had a lot of experience with casts with lots of children at the Children's Theatre Company and in shows like Oliver! GYPSY has a high percentage of children actors, too. How is it working with groups of kids in a professional show with a month-long run? And, do you feel that the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area is becoming a training ground for the theatre world?

I love working with kids; their enthusiasm is infectious. I really don't treat the child actors any different than the adults when it comes to the rehearsal process. They are held to the same standards and they always rise to the occasion. The Twin Cities has been a training ground for the theater world for the last fifty years. We are so fortunate to have the nation's largest and most celebrated children's theater company in our community, not only developing the next generation of theater artists, but exposing thousands of young people to the magic of theater each year.

Sometimes you revisit a production that you have previously produced (GYPSY, All is Calm, Sweeney Todd). When you bring a show back, do you re-work it at all or just recreate the magic and try to recapture audiences' interest from the first go-round?

I love being able to revisit a given show, especially when it's a work as rich as GYPSY. It is never a simple remount. I would never deny the actor the opportunity to bring themselves to a given role. Michelle Barber's Mama Rose is very different from Jody Briskey's, who did the production with Theater Latté Da in 2007. Tod Petersen is reviving the role of Herbie, but this Herbie is very different because he is playing opposite a new Mama Rose. My job is to get people in the room together and facilitate a process that leads to authentic action and reaction. If the actors are doing their job, the production can't help but change.

I also adjust a "remount" to the given space. There are things you can do in a small space that just don't translate to a larger venue and vice versa. The Pantages was built for Vaudeville so there's a beautiful simpatico for this particular show and we are trying to maximize that.

Time for a plug for your next big thing. Many of us have heard about the remount of SWEENEY TODD, what don't we already know that you can tell us? Or, give some insight into what you'd like to do next professionally.

I love being able to direct true masterpieces like SWEENEY TODD, and there are still a lot of shows on my bucket list. But I am even more excited about new work and bringing together playwrights, composers and lyricists to create something wholly original. Theater Latté Da recently launched NEXT 20/20, which is a commitment to develop 20 new musicals or plays with music between now and the year 2020. Hopefully you will be seeing the world premiere of a host of new musicals in the coming years.


Main photo: Peter Rothstein, director, GYPSY, courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Production photo: Cast of GYPSY, George Byron Griffiths, http://www.gbgphotography.com


Peter Rothstein Bio

Peter has directed 55 mainstage productions for Theater Latté Da, including 9 world premieres. Other recent collaborations include the Guthrie Theater, The Children's Theater Company, Minnesota Opera, Illusion Theater, Ten Thousand Things and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theater. He is the creator of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 and Steerage Song-a new musical created in collabo­ration with Dan Chouinard. Recently, Peter was named the 2015 Artist of the Year by the Star Tribune. He has previously been named Theater Artist of the Year by Lavender, and the Best Director by City Pages. He has been awarded grants and fellowships from the National Endow­ment for the Arts, Theatre Communications Group, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the McKnight Foundation. He holds a B. A. in Music and Theater from St. John's University and a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the Univer­sity of Wisconsin-Madison. Peter-Rothstein.com

Tickets for GYPSY

GYPSY runs Feb. 13-March 13, 2016, at the Pantages Theatre as part of the Broadway Re-
Imagined Series. Tickets range from $31.50-$56.50 (subject
to change) depending on performance time and seating preference. Tickets may be purchased in
person at the State Theatre Box Office, 805 Hennepin Avenue, Mpls., 55402 (no service fees), online
at HennepinTheatreTrust.org, through Ticketmaster by calling 1.800.982.2787 or visiting a
Ticketmaster Ticket Center.



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