“Gypsy, A Musical Fable,” the current highly entertaining musical production at Tacoma Little Theatre, is the story of a familiar figure to devotees of the Turner Classic Movie Channel, June Havoc, who was in theatre for more than 72 years – from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood films and finally to TV.
Uh, well, strike that. “Gypsy” is the story of her older sister, Rose Louise Hovick, who took the name Gypsy Rose Lee and became the world-renowned queen of burlesque for her mastery of the striptease – as well as a film actor and an author.
Well, the truth is, “Gypsy” is really the story of the sisters’ mother, Rose Thompson Hovick, and her struggle to make her daughters into the star she always wanted to be but couldn’t make the climb to the top for herself so she spent a lifetime trying to catapult her daughters there.
“Gypsy” is a story of drive, perseverance, pride, disappointment, despair, hate, love but first and foremost, smothering mother-love.
With the book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Jerome Robbins, “Gypsy” is also one of theatre’s most iconic musical comedies with songs like “Let Me Entertain You,” “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” as well as a dozen more.
Director Chris Serface brings out all the love, sweat and tears of the script by his tutelage of his proficient actors. Serface has his cast working like a delicate, well-oiled machine without a glitch – but there are a few bumps and grinds, which are hilarious.
“Gypsy’s” biographical life story is played out on designer Blake R. York’s mammoth set of many pierces which uses every trick in TLT’s stage, including the revolve, to take the audience to the 20ish different scene changes from homes, hotel rooms, cars, railway stations and a myriad of theatres.
Music Director Debra Leach, who uses an Empty Pit (recorded) orchestra, keeps the singers on the right track with the songs.
Lexi Barnett brings in her fresh chorography, which keeps the audience captivated, especially with Baby June’s numbers and Tulsa’ wonderful tap solo – and the strippers – what a hoot!
Costumer Michele Graves has amassed a magnificent vintage wardrobe for Rose as well as the charming costumes for the rest of the almost 30 actors. Jeffery Weaver does props, including wigs. Niclas Olson lights the set and Dylan Twiner does sound.
Nena Curley is Stage Manager to make sure people get on stage and keep the back-stage running properly.
The cast is filled with terrific talent of many ages, the youngest is seven, the oldest is – well, you know, older – but all are up to the task of turning in a wonderful experience in musical theatre.
The younger set includes: Caleb Corpeno, Kepler Koerger, Liam Loughridge and Gunnar Ray as Newsboys, who back-up Baby June’s performances. Each youthful thespian does a good job with their songs and dance numbers
Alex Koerger plays four roles; as Uncle Jocko, he is very good as the “war-weary” MC for the children’s talent contest which introduces the show’s leads to the audience, along with other contestants. One of whom is Oliva Zamira and the bubbly Balloon Girl. Of course, there are the Stage Mothers, including Caiti Burke, who also plays Miss Cratchitt; Erika Jacobsen who is also a Waitress and Marjorie May; Kathy Kluska; and Emilie Rommel Skimkus.
Ron Bauer does nicely as theatre manager Mr. Weber and the photographer Bougeron-Cochon. Joe Woodland does likewise with his three roles, Pop, Rose’s fed-up father; Pastey, the burlesque Stage Manager; and the befuddled Orpheum Circuit booker, Mr. Goldstone.
Summer Mays is Young Louise. This young cast member has to be very good at her trade because she is soooo bad as the no talent Louise, and everyone knows that to be that bad, you really have to be very, very good!
Alexandria Bray is perfect as Baby June. This 11-year-old bundle of talent explodes onto the stage with the amazing stylized image of a child pushed by Mama to make it, and she will do anything for Mama. Bray’s character is complete with bouncy blond curls, painted-on smile and a high-kick which would dislodge the hat off of any man standing too close.
As the story progresses, the children grow up, this is shown during Baby June’s final dance number which is done through a strobe light with Baby and the young boys marching while Dainty June and the older boys change places one at a time – very nicely done – without anyone missing a beat.
The older boys are Jeremy Schroeder as Yonkers (also plays a press agent, Phil); Charlie Stevens as L.A. (also Georgie, Jocko’s assistant); Kyle Yoder as Angie; and Rico Lastrapes as Tulsa.
Lastrapes does an outstanding dance number where the young terpsichorean taps across the stage to the delight of the audience.
After the boys leave the act, The Hollywood Blonds appear. Jill Heinecke is Agnes/Amanda (also Dance Captain); Abbey Homan is Dolores (also Rene, Louise’s maid); Erika Jacobsen is Marjorie May; Erin O’Loughlin is Thelma; and Abigail Webster as Gail. This bevy of blond beauties holds their own as some of the worst singers who are the best in the business.
Three performers are well worth a second mention for their additional roles in the second act. They are Caiti Burke, Kathy Kluska and Emilie Rommel Skimkus. One of the highlights of the show is when Louise goes into the burlesque house and meets up with three strippers.
Burke is electrifying as the Electra, who lights up the stage with each bump; Kluska is a graceful butterfly swooping in with each grind; Skimkus is a real blast as Mazeppa, the stripper with a heart and horn of gold. These three wise women wise up Louise to the ins and outs of burlesque while singing and dancing to “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and leave the audience howling.
Before mentioning the four major leads in this smooth experience, one final supernumerary must be named and lauded. Allie, the precious Papillion pooch who plays Rose’s lap dog, Chowsie, with all the charm and grace her butterfly name implies.
Julia Wyman is the long suffering Dainty June who is so disillusioned with her mother, her many years of being a baby and life in general that she makes a break with everything. Wyman is quite believable as the talented child actor never allowed to grow up; nice work.
Jed Salugher is the omni-present Herbie, the candy merchant who falls for Rose and her girls and spends a lifetime courting them by parting the ways to near success. Salugher is excellent as the patient lover. His singing voice is pleasing as his characterization. Salugher makes Herbie a gentle, down-right nice guy.
Cassie Jo Fastabend is Louise. Fastabend brings a reality to the role of the also-ran daughter. She makes her character quiet, obedient and eager to please her over-bearing mother with whom she has a love/hate relationship. As Fastabend ages in the role, her character changes and once she tastes success, she blossoms into the beautiful women she emulates. Her character is wonderfully layered.
Stephanie Leeper is Rose – Mama, who couldn’t so she spent her life grooming her daughters to do what she couldn’t achieve. Leeper looks the role and sings the role as it was written – with love and cut-throat devotion. Her character is real – when Leeper sings her final song,”Rose’s Turn,” there are tears in her eyes and envy in her heart. However, when Louise shows up for the final scene, Leeper brings the character full circle.
“Gypsy, A Musical Fable” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through April 2 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. A special Pay-What-You-Can performance is scheduled for Thursday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com or call the theatre at (253) 272-2281.
“Gypsy” is one of the best musicals written during the era when musical comedy was the queen of Broadway. There’s still musical comedy on the Great White Way, but the songs have changed, the style has changed, the acting has changed. For the better? Who can say? Only time will tell.
But we’ll always have “Gypsy” where “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” so “light the lights” and let Tacoma Little Theatre entertain you. Remember, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and TLT has one with “Gypsy.”