BWW Review: GYPSY at Theater Works
Kelli James is a veteran of Broadway and touring productions. She's a professional artist with a luscious voice. To hear her is to love her - one longs to see her CDs on sale in the lobby. Theater Works has a history with James, and she is clearly an area favorite. The company brought her in as a professional guest artist on a union contract, which artistic director Chris Hamby brought to our attention during his curtain speech, and which is noted in the program (*The Actor appears through the courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.)
This critic's last experience with Theatre Works was when she reviewed their magnificent production of Sunday in the Park with George. Seeing the astonishing amateur talent showcased in that production, expectations were off the scale for the company with a "Broadway Star" featured in their 2017 Season opening production of Jule Stein and Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy.
Opening weekend's Sunday matinee house was all but packed, and the audience were mostly on their feet when came the curtain call. That said, it is this critic's view that James is miscast as Rose.
Gypsy is a bittersweet fable of conflicting dreams - of a menagerie of cobbled together family vainly longing for love, safety and for individual identities. It's not "musical comedy." It's a play with music.
Rose is a deeply flawed, complicated character that calls for not just killer vocal chops, but extremely nuanced acting chops. It's a hard role that is the core of the show. We've got to love her and pull for her every minute, even when we see her behaving like the most terrifyingly narcissistic jerk ever. James' cluttered, superficial rendering comes into sharp focus when she sings - when she is front and center and there's nothing else going on, we are entranced.
There are far too many tricky moments of comedy and drama in the production that are sloppily directed, staged and performed. There are missed opportunities at every turn, far too numerous to mention here. The show feels jarringly amateurish and is extremely uneven. The lack of attention to detail is breathtaking.
Not at all amateurish is full-time lawyer, part time actor Scott Hyder's marvelous performance as Herbie. Hyder is reprising the role in this production, having performed it just last spring at Desert Foothills Theater. As this critic said when she reviewed that production, "...Hyder is superb. He takes us with him everywhere his character's heart goes, and we truly grieve when he takes his final exit."
Amanda Glenn's turn as Louise is lovely and heartbreaking. Glenn has a beautiful voice and exquisite is her painstaking, delicate interpretation of the awkward, plain Jane who becomes the iconic burlesque queen.
The most moving moments in the production are between Hyder and Glenn.
Olivia La Porte as young Louise is spot-on, as is Allie Angus as Baby June.
Kathlynn Rodin as Dainty June is gorgeous and gives it all she's got, and she's loaded with talent.
Joshua Vern is an off-type Tulsa who brings an entirely new and different spin to the role. The character is the quintessential "boy dancer." It's the 1920s, and Tulsa wants to be part of a Fred and Adele Astaire-style dance team. Vern is more mature than your typical Tulsa, and he's a theatrical heavy-weight. He brings to Tulsa's signature number a virtuosic, wistful desperation.
In the dozen or so Gypsy productions this critic has seen, including the films and Broadway productions, this is the first time the character of Agnes has been a standout. 18 year-old Savoy Graca is terrific, and we'll surely see her emerge as a leading lady.
Tracy Burns is a great Tessie Tura - good comic timing, big voice and a lot of heart. Tina Khalil and Jacqui Notorio are the other strong, funny parts of the grubby trio of strippers who sell You Gotta Get a Gimmick.
The ensemble (Joseph Cavazos, Todd Corbiel, Brenna Jackson, Camden Wawro, Katie Tuchi, Kai Nunziato-Cruz, Cash Haines, Nixson Morton, Caelan Koth, Alex Richardson, Charlie Rabago and Hunter Cuison) is under-directed, but fun and talented.
Cydney Trent's choreography is appropriately campy and silly in the numbers-within-numbers that are choreographed by Rose in the world of Gypsy. The balance of the choreography lacks luster and feels as if it were hastily thrown together.
The set, by Brett Aiken is oddly uninspired and Jeff Davis' lighting is poor - we're relieved when the spots come on and we can see the actor's faces.
The flimsy women's costumes, designed by Landis York, lack physical structure, which doesn't work, even for 1920's loose-waisted garments. The men's wardrobe appears mostly pulled off the rack. DeAndrea Vaughn's wigs are dreadful, with the exception of those on both Baby and Dainty June, though the makeup is very well done.
The orchestra is too loud, and the body mics on the actors often cut out or produce static. More irritating and distracting are the damned things themselves that obliterate actor's features, cast shadows and entirely ruin moments such as when Gypsy Rose Lee unzips her gowns. We're looking at "transparent" body tape, wires, transmitter boxes, etc. It's awful. The room, however, doesn't seem to have been acoustically designed for natural voices. It's an industry-wide problem that this theatre enthusiast, for one, dearly hopes is addressed and fixed some day soon.
Gypsy is be presented through September 24th in the Gyder Theater at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts: 10580 N. 83rd Drive, Peoria, AZ 85345. Show times are 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday nights (September 15, 16, 22 & 23), Sundays at 2pm (September 17, & 24), two Saturday matinees at 3pm (September 16 & 23), and one Wednesday matinee at 2pm on September 13th. Single tickets are $38; discounts available for seniors, students, and groups. Season tickets (until Sept. 8th) and Flex passes are available for the 2017-18 Season. To purchase tickets or find out more about Theater Works productions, contact the Box Office at (623) 815-7930 or visit www.theaterworks.org.