By Mitchell Field
Marin County’s venerated 110 year-old Mountain Play, which bills itself as a “Great Outdoor Theatre Adventure” is currently producing the 63-year-old Broadway smash musical Gypsy indoors. Neither is showing its age.
Nor is the venue, The Barn Theater at the Marin Art and Garden Center. Normally the home of the 92-year-old Ross Valley Players, the theater has undergone a recent face-lift, including brand new seats and a remodeled concession area.
With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by the then 30-year-old Stephen Sondheim, 1959’s Gypsy is a much-beloved American musical about a fame-obsessed stage-mother during the waning days of vaudeville, with her itinerant troupe of ‘kids’– including her own two daughters, one of whom grows up to become the world-famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, on whose memoir the show is loosely based.
Director/choreographer Zoe Swenson-Graham’s well-cast group of thirteen exuberant performers, including two Equity actors, play thirty-seven different roles in this three-hour extravaganza, on choreographer/scenic artist Zachary Isen’s clever yet spare set, with musical-direction by Jon Gallo.
…Is Gypsy a superb black comedy or an American tragedy? Decide for yourself at this smashing production.
Even those who are not musical-theater aficionados will probably be familiar with the show’s hits: “Some People,” “‘Together, (Wherever We Go),” the classic strip-tease number “Let Me Entertain You” and Broadway belter favorite “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
This over-the-top musical, which American essayist Frank Rich described as, ” . . . nothing if not Broadway’s own brassy, unlikely answer to King Lear . . .” demands that performers give their all to pull it off successfully. Swenson-Graham’s troupe does just that, led by Dyan McBride as the ultimate likeable-but-nightmarish stage mother.
McBride’s Mama Rose drives ahead constantly, no matter the difficulties, financial setbacks, slap-downs, fleabag accommodations and poverty. She’s ready, able and willing to digest even canned dog food to achieve her ambition of propelling her daughter June to stardom. It’s hard not to despise the ego-driven Rose, whom theater critic Clive Barnes described as “one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical’ and yet not admire her at the same time for her grit and spirit, as she harangues and uses her own children and everyone else around her, including her long-suffering boyfriend/manager Herbie, played charmingly by Bay Area stage veteran DC Scarpelli.
Her awkward, yearning-to-be-loved daughter Louise’s ultimate transformation into the glamorous, sexy Gypsy Rose Lee is quite extraordinary. The talented Jill Jacobs absolutely kills it. While the primary plot is Mama Rose’s struggle to keep her act afloat in a changing market, the secondary plot is a wonderful ugly duckling story.
Alexandra Fry and Julia Ludwig, as daughter June at different ages, also shine. Swenson-Graham’s supporting cast is terrific. In the show’s most hilarious burlesque scene, showgirls Michaela Marymor and Libby Oberlin and the outstanding Tanika Baptiste, as stripper Tessie Tura, dance and prance in Adriana Gutierrez’s fabulously ridiculous outfits, one of which even lights up! Kudos to Marymor who cutely ad-libbed when one piece failed to fire up on opening night.
The lighting of a stage show is critical to its ambiance and drama. Ellen Brooks and Frank Sarubbi handle the Barn’s lighting design with aplomb. Bruce Vieira’s sound design follows suit.
There’s no live orchestra for this production, unlike regular Mountain Play performances, but the recorded tracks directed by Sean Paxton work well, although sometimes the music seemed to overwhelm the vocals. Perhaps the volume might be lowered for the music or the lead performers should be miked.
Is Gypsy a superb black comedy or an American tragedy? Decide for yourself at this smashing production.
Mitchell Field is a Sr. Contributing Writer for Aisle Seat Review. Based in Marin County, Mr. Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: email@example.com
|Written by||Book: Arthur Laurents.
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
|Directed by||Zoe Swenson-Graham|
|Producing Company||The Mountain Play Association / Ross Valley Players|
|Production Dates||Through Dec 18, 2022|
|Production Address||The Barn Theater @ Marin Art & Garden Center 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross, CA.|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?||Yes!|