BWW Review: GYPSY at Desert Foothills Theater

BWW Review: GYPSY at Desert Foothills Theater

Desert Foothill Theater's latest offering is directed by Damon J. Bolling with music direction by Daniel Kurek.

DFT's Gypsy is the quintessential community theatre production. Volunteer actor/singer/dancers come together to tell a story and give it everything they've got. With varying levels of talent and ability, DFT's ensemble bring to the stage "This rags-to-riches story of ugly-duckling, Louise, the tomboy who rose to national fame as Gypsy Rose Lee (the entertainment queen who put class into Burlesque). [Gypsy] is an all American classic; and Mama Rose, the pushy backstage mother who lived through her daughters, but paid a high price, is one of the most iconic characters in Broadway history." (Quote courtesy of the DFT website.)

The production boasts an upstage elevated platform that supports a live "orchestra," conducted from an upright piano by Kent Campbell. His excellent musicians are Allyn Swanson and Tim McCarthy (trumpets), Anthony Massiello, Albert Grijiva and Ashley Burrows (reeds), Mark Witt (trombone), Zachary Bush (bass) and Tom Murphy (percussion).

The most impressive production element is a large projection screen that during the overture and entr'acte flashes images of historic vaudeville theaters and performers including Miss Gypsy Rose Lee.

The first act of the Styne/Laurents/Sondheim masterpiece is agonizing in myriad ways. Rose stages some of the most wretched musical numbers ever devised, and they are performed with commensurately painful aplomb. In all previous productions experienced by this critic, the stagings and performances have been too well done. Baby/Dainty June has invariably come across far too accomplished to be only encouraged by a vaudeville producer to take off a year for lessons. DFT's June is just right. Both her very young self, played by Drea Metzger and her older self, played by Ali Whitwell, exhibit huge, undeveloped talent.

As Louise (later, Gypsy), Lindsay Kalby is entirely believable as the awkward, less-than-dazzling sister of the sparkly June. (Mia Dybvig-Pawelko does a great job as Young Louise.) When the day comes that she is thrust into the spotlight as the star stripper at a low-rent burlesque house, Kalby's Gypsy evolves before our eyes into the full-figured, confident, paradigmatic burlesque queen.

Last seen in her standout performance/s in Theater Works' Sunday in the Park with George, Debra Qualtaire takes her turn as Mama Rose. Qualtaire is greatly talented and well-cast as the archetypal stage mother.

As Herbie, one of the most sympathetic characters in the American theatre canon, Scott Hyder is superb. He takes us with him everywhere his character's heart goes, and we truly grieve when he takes his final exit.

Jacob Herrera is a terrific Tulsa - not so slick that his presence in Rose's rag-tag act is beyond credulity, but wonderfully talented with a promising show of skill as a musical theatre triple threat.

Anyone who knows and loves the show anticipates the appearance of Tessie Tura, Electra and Mazepa, the three seasoned strippers who bump, grind and belt the classic, You Gotta Get a Gimmick. DFT's trio are great fun. Elizabeth Lyon is Electra and Jacqueline Notorio is Mazepa. Tessie, played with quirky self-possession by Kathy Donald, is the most delightful version of that character this critic has seen, including on Broadway and in two film versions.

The rest of the cast includes Mackenzie Moller, Paige Rinkes, Isabella Varela-Pendergast, Finn Smith, Scott Kennedy, David Mason and Brody Wurr.

Choreography is by Jan Snow, scene design by Dorann Matson, lighting design by Laura Berry, costumes by Aurelie Flores and hair and makeup by Trey Degroodt.

Gypsy continues at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center through April 9th. Tickets and information at dftheater.org.

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