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Review: North Carolina Theatre's GYPSY

Loosely based on the 1957 memoir by renowned stripetease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy follows the dreams and efforts of her mother, Rose, who raises two daughters to perform onstage and casts an affectionate eye on the hardships of show business life. The idea to musicalize this story came about when producer David Merrick read a chapter of Lee's memoirs in Harper's Magazine. From there, he quickly got in touch with her in order to obtain the rights.

The original Broadway production directed & choreographed by Jerome Robbins with Ethel Merman in the starring role opened on May 21st, 1959, and went on to receive 8 Tony Award nominations (including Best Musical) the following year. While the production sadly went home empty handed on Tony night, the musical itself has more importantly been identified as one of the great works in the American musical theatre. Gypsy has since received four Broadway revivals, each of them were led by Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone as well as two screen adaptations with Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler.

I don't need to explain to you how great the musical itself is, but I'm going to anyway. The book (which is the script) by Arthur Laurents guides us through the trials and tribulations of show business while also perfectly balancing that with the relationships Rose has not only her daughters, but also the people she comes across in her life. It's a well-detailed script with a score by Jule Styne and a young lyricist by the name of Stephen Sondheim that blends in with the story very well. In fact, when Sondheim originally agreed to do Gypsy after having collaborated with Robbins and Laurents on West Side Story, he was promised that it would be his first musical as composer and lyricist. However, Ethel Merman did not want an unknown composer writing the score, so he had to wait a little longer before he eventually started writing both music and lyrics for a living.

As for this production directed by Eric Woodall, it's got an amazing troupe of performers from New York and the Triangle area (including some of the students from the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory). In one of (if not) the most behemoth characters in musical theatre, Christine Sherrill not only portrays Mama Rose as the aggressive stage mother that she is, but also displays the human side of her in one of the character's more heartfelt moments. It is especially evidenced at the end of the show when Sherrill gives her rendition of 'Rose's Turn', which has to be the greatest 11 o'clock number ever written for a musical. Mary Mattison gives an enthusiastic, yet heartfelt performance as Louise, who probably has one of the best character arcs ever written for a musical. It is especially shown during 'Let Me Entertain You' in Act II, where the character begins as a shy girl who's very reluctant to perform, but grows into a more confident performer as the song goes on. Martin Moran also gives a very charismatic, yet caring performance as Rose's manager/love interest Herbie. Standouts include Tanisha Moore as June and Sidney DuPont as Tulsa, who especially shows himself as a real triple threat in his number, 'All I Need is the Girl'. Another highlight of the second act is the number, 'You Gotta Get a Gimmick', performed very well by Amma Osei as Mazeppa, Lynda Clark as Electra, and J. Elaine Marcos as Tessie Tura. I'd also have to give a special shoutout to conservatory students, Mackenzie Pierce and Skyla I'Lece Woodard for their talented performances as Baby Louise and Baby June, respectively.

Gypsy is the quintessential showbiz drama. A musical that is funny, entertaining (with some energetic dance numbers staged by Michael Mindlin), and very moving. North Carolina Theatre's production of this landmark musical is currently playing at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through November 19th.

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