BWW Review: GYPSY at Palm Canyon Theatre
Since its Broadway debut in 1959, Gypsy has been revered as one of the finest American musicals ever written. The touching - and sometimes horrifying - story of the quintessential stage mother bulldozing her two daughters into Vaudeville is based on Gypsy Rose Lee's autobiography, but focuses on Rose, her mother. The show either succeeds or fails based on the performance of Rose, and Palm Canyon Theatre's current production succeeds in trumps with the powerhouse delivery of Jaci Davis. Her voice fills every ounce of the theatre, and her energy in speaking, moving and singing never flags during an almost-three-hour performance!
That is far from saying that Davis is the only strong element in the production. Director Derik Shopinski has assembled a strong cast, and molded them into a well-focused unit. At the top is Elizabeth Schmelling as Louise, the gangly tomboy daughter who eventually becomes the title character. Shopinski keeps her in boy's clothes up until the moment late in the second act when she transforms into the world's most famous stripper, and Schmelling's physical transformation - not only wig and makeup, but posture and movement - is almost like a magician's illusion. The scene at the end where Gypsy finally stands up to her domineering mother is truly a clash of the titans!
Tom Warrick is terrific as Herbie, the businessman who is willing to serve as the booking agent for Rose's daughters because he is so fixated with Rose herself. He seems to thrive on her dominance, though Warrick's interpretation gave the character more self-reliance than many other actors have, and it made Herbie more respectable and interesting. Another high moment was Mat Tucker as Tulsa, who sings and dances sublimely in "All I Need is the Girl."
The show opens at Uncle Jocko's Kiddie Hour, with Frank Cantale as the harried, scheming Uncle Jocko. We meet Madame Rose who is trying to push her daughters, Baby June (Sadie Paiz) and Baby Louise (Ava Tethal), to center stage. Although her father refuses to give her any more money in the next scene, she finds a way to expand the girls' act to include four scene-stealing newsboys (Xavier Brown, Rhys Foxx, A.J. Hernandez and Fabrizio Ibanez). Soon, they morph into teenage versions of themselves where Schmelling replaces Baby Louise as a convincing early teen, joined by her sister Dainty June (Allegra Angelo). The sisters' duet, "If Mama Was Married," is a delight, and both ladies presented very convincingly as teenagers, even though Angelo recently played the sultry and very adult Lola in Damn Yankees.
The three strippers in Act Two, Morgana Corelli, Denise Carey and Elissa Landi, had the audience eating from their hands during "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," and each of the actresses delivered a full and unique characterization.
Musical Director Steven Smith, accompanied the show on piano, joined by David Bronson on drums and Larry Holloway on Bass. I occasionally had to look over at the trio to convince myself that there were only three musicians because the sound always seemed very full and dynamic.
The most exciting component of J. W. Layne's set was a decorative gold proscenium arch, surrounding a red show curtain. I truly wish that "picture frame" were a permanent feature of the auditorium - it's gorgeous. The rest of the set was a collection of wagons that seemed to get re-dressed to provide a house, a hotel room, several dressing rooms, etc., as well as several full-stage curtains that were especially effective in Gypsy's striptease medley late in the show.
Due to high ticket demand, the company has added a Wednesday night performance to the previously-scheduled Thu-Sun remaining weekend. The Sunday matinee is already sold out, but I strongly suggest you buy your tickets for one of the other performances as soon as the box office opens on Tuesday morning.
For tickets or further information, go to www.palmcanyontheatre.org, or phone 760-323-5123.
Next up at Palm Canyon Theatre is Blithe Spirit, playing May 24 - 27, and the raucous musical, The Wedding Singer, July 6 - 15.