When the curtain rises on the North Carolina Theatre‘s production of Gypsy: A Musical Fable, it’s 1940; and times are tough. We meet Mama Rose (played by Christine Sherrill) and her kids, Baby Louise and Baby June (played by North Carolina Conservatory students Ellen Mackenzie Pierce and Skyla l’Lece Woodard, respectively).
Mama Rose is a much-divorced stage mother, who dreams of Hollywood stardom. The family is living a hardscrabble existence, eating dog food and going to audition after audition, desperate for a break. Through sheer force of will, Mama Rose is determined to drive, nay, force Baby June (Skyla Woodard) and Baby Louise (Ellen Pierce) to fame — despite their protests and exhaustion.
Mama Rose decides to move her children to Hollywood. Since she is past her prime, she spends her time dreaming up acts for her own kids, as well as some children whom she picks up along the way to join the production.
Mama Rose also convinces a retired Hollywood agent-cum-candy salesman, Herbie (Martin Moran) to get back into the biz to help her mission. While the rest of the family dreams of a normal life — a house, a yard, a cow? — Rose will have none of it. She has a maniacal pursuit of fame that drives her every move.
Sadly, the audience knows from the start that fame will never be hers, as her productions are ridiculous, tired, saccharine Vaudeville skits during a time that Vaudeville was already dying a natural death. But Mama Rose’s drive prevents her from seeing it.
Although the story is sad, the sets were show-stopping. Michael Anania has created the feel of old Hollywood back stage. The muted colors come from faded backdrops from long-ago productions, and the audience was transported to a kitchen in a tenement building, through backstage dressing rooms, and onto the open road. Anania’s sets underscore the fact that the play is set long ago, with fog making it a seem an even more distant memory.
When the years passed and the children became young adults, the transition to adult actors is smartly done in the middle of a dance number, with strobe lights. It was divine.
The live music was great, and it was a thrill to see a female conductor, Laura Bergquist, putting the NCT orchestra through its paces. The show has a lot of recognizable hits: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Let Me Entertain You,” and “Together (Wherever We Go).” Whatever we do, we will muddle right through it together (like it or not)!
Costumes deftly transported us to a tough time in our country. Original costume designer Thomas G. Marquez and NCT costumer LeGrande Smith do a fine job of dressing the background characters as Hollywood players, with clowns, gowns, and newsboy pants.
The principals have super strong vocals. Christine Sherrill’s Rose channels Ethel Merman, who played Rose in the original 1959 Broadway production of Gypsy. Although it is hard to beat Natalie Wood’s portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in the iconic 1962 film, Mary Mattison’s performance as the grown-up Louise gives Natalie a run for her money. Ms. Mattison’s portrayal of innocence lost and fame won was spot on.
With so much good, why did we leave the theater feeling vaguely dissatisfied? Upon reflection, it wasn’t the actors, the set, or the music. All those were great. In the end, it was the story itself that did not resonate with us. This backdrop about a dying art form from 80 years ago is simply not relatable. The story is so old that Burlesque was the newest sensation. That’s ancient.
On top of that, Mama Rose is such a tyrant that it was hard to watch her insanity for three hours. We knew from the very start of the show that her acts were awful and her dreams were impossible, even by 1940s Hollywood standards. And her treatment of her kids was simply shocking.
But maybe that is the point. In the end, Rose’s maniacal drive for fame pushed everyone away from her, including us. In the end, she did a super job of that.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 16th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8733; Nov. 16th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd32.html; Nov. 16th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/11/north-carolina-theatres-gypsy-proves-its-themes-are-still-relevant-today/; Nov. 15th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-North-Carolina-Theatres-GYPSY-20171115 and Nov. 8th BWW TV interview with actor Sidney DuPont, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Sidney-DuPont-of-North-Carolina-Theatres-GYPSY-20171108; Nov. 7th Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Central NC interview with actors Christine Sherrill and Martin Moran, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2017/11/07/in-depth–nc-theatre-performs–gypsy–; and Oct. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article181571926.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 13th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/11/gypsy-the-mother-of-all-musicals-is-ncts-2017-18-season-opener-nov-14-19/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents GYPSY: A MUSICAL FABLE, starring Christine Sherrill as Rose and Mary Mattison as Louise, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $25.15-$92.15, except $25 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/741024.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/gypsy, https://www.facebook.com/events/506885026321055/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/gypsy-7900.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYvaYVYTZJ8, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre/videos/10159561518870187/, and https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre/videos/10159590610600187/.
2017-18 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201718-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18th, performance.
Gypsy: A Memoir (1957 autobiography): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gypsy:_A_Memoir (Wikipedia).
The Autobiography: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Gypsy Rose Lee (Seattle, WA-born burlesque entertainer and striptease artist, nee Rose Louise Hovick, 1911-70): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/gypsy-rose-lee-5987 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0497346/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gypsy_Rose_Lee (Wikipedia).
Gypsy: A Musical Fable (1959 Broadway and 1973 West End musical): http://www.tamswitmark.com/shows/gypsy/ ( Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.), http://www.julestyne.com/Broadway/Gypsy.php (Jule Styne web page), http://www.sondheim.com/works/gypsy/ (Stephen Sondheim web page), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/gypsy-4135 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gypsy_(musical) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.campbroadway.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Gypsy-6-16-08.pdf (Camp Broadway, LLC).
Jule Styne (music): http://www.julestyne.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jule-styne-12466 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jule_Styne (Wikipedia).
Stephen Sondheim (lyrics): http://www.sondheim.com/ (official website), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stephen-Sondheim (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/stephen-sondheim-12430 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
Arthur Laurents (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/arthur-laurents-4307 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Laurents (Wikipedia).
Eric Woodall (New York City director): http://www.ericwoodall.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/eric-woodall-90124 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940106/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/eric.woodall.98 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.