Aisle on the Isle: "Gypsy"
"Gypsy" at The Stage Theatre in Merrick, is as lovely and loving a community theater production as you're likely to see on Long Island.
Lovely because the material is by the cream of Broadway talent -- Arthur Laurents ("The Way We Were," "West Side Story") wrote the book, Jules Styne ("Funny Girl," "Bells Are Ringing") the music, Stephen Sondheim ("West Side Story," "A Little Night Music," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") the lyrics -- and loving because the marvelously talented performers clearly relish the wonderful parts within which they showcase their talents.
"Gypsy" is named for (and ostensibly based upon the life of) the lead character, stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. But the story and the real star of the show is Gypsy's mother, the ultimate of all stage mothers, Mamma Rose.
As written, the character of Rose could easily disappear into one dimensional caricature: a manipulative and lying woman betraying, however unwittingly, the best interests of her daughters. Portrayed with nuance and subtlety by the marvelous Heddy Zirin, Rose is a multifaceted, complicated woman. While clearly living the life she wanted for herself through her reluctant children, Zirin's Rose is nevertheless complex and grounded in real, often opposing, emotion. The desire for love faces off against the desire for freedom; the need to do what is best for one's children faces the desire to do what is best for one's self. A terrific singer, a must for a role which requires the belting out of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "Rose's Turn," Zirin also possesses great acting skills, so much so that one wonders if this is a role tailor-made for her, as it seems, or if she is just that good an actress. I suspect it is the latter.
Marc Courtade portrays Herbie, the sweetly indulgent agent who left show business only to return for no other purpose than to be near to his beloved Rose. Mr. Courtade brings intelligence and quiet sophistication to the role. Herbie often dutifully capitulates to Rose's desires to pursue success in vaudeville at any cost, and often it is against his own better judgment. The dignity of his presence on stage is a perfect match for the character, and the duets (particularly "Small World") performed by Herbie and Rose are a treat.
Danielle Crinnion's Louise, who is to become the woman known as Gypsy Rose Lee, is appropriately sweet and shy, sincere and reliable. She is willing to remain in the background as her sister June (Natalie Fabian) is endlessly promoted by Rose, to the combined, comical exasperation of both daughters as expressed in the duet, "If Momma Were Married." When finally coerced by Rose to perform a burlesque number onstage, it is only the hard learned lessons of three old hand strippers (Andria Amarosa's hysterical butterfly, Tessie Tura; Judy Lerner's brassy, trumpet-blaring Mazeppa; and Lu Petronelli's illuminating Electra -- fabulous and funny actresses, all) that gives Louise the courage to try a less than revealing first strip.
All the performers have singing and dancing talent far greater than expected in community theater. Of special note are child actresses Emily Tenenbaum and Makenzie Russo as Baby June and Baby Louise, respectively, who sing and dance like old pros, and Andrew Newhook as Tulsa, the object of the young Louise's unspoken adoration, whose performance is a mid-show delight.
Congratulations to director Bruce Bider and choreographer Rosemary Topol for putting together a first rate evening of musical theater.
Everyone in this production -- including the oh, so brief appearance of John Pane as the momentarily befuddled Mr. Goldstone -- performs with clarity, energy and enthusiasm. They all seem to be having a great time.
You will, too.
"Gypsy," plays at The Stage Theatre, 2222 Hewlett Avenue in Merrick, through June 25. Call 516.868.6400 for more information.
"Aisle on the Isle" is a series of reviews of Long Island theater events by Aliceann Donnelly, former attorney and college professor, and incurable, lifelong theater junkie.