Friday, October 13, 2006

Gypsy (The SOB Review) - Loring Playhouse, Minneapolis, MN

Gypsy (The SOB Review) – Loring Playhouse, Minneapolis, MN

**1/2 (out of ****)

Last weekend, the accomplished Theatre Latté Da company in Minneapolis opened its season with a sometimes stunning reinterpretation of the venerable musical Gypsy, helmed by Peter Rothstein. (Incidentally, Rothstein also directed Floyd Collins, the very first show reviewed by Steve On Broadway).

In seeing Gypsy last evening, I couldn’t shake two critical factors from my mind. First, I had just seen the bravura performance by Patti LuPone as Mama Rose at Chicagoland’s Ravinia a scant two months ago. Second, in chatting with Rothstein in July, I learned a curious thing: he had never (at that time) seen a live performance of the landmark musical production he was about to direct.

True to its promise of being “a new twist on an old favorite,” Rothstein has reimagined this classic. Much like John Doyle's recent Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, Rothstein strips down the orchestrations with the cast doing double duty -- even Jody Briskey’s prickly and often dissonantly-challenged Mama Rose is seen playing the trumpet -- usually to great effect. But that’s not all.

The entire meaning of some key scenes seems to change significantly. In place of the tender “Little Lamb” scene, we get a pageant of kids in animal costumes that quite frankly made me laugh, even though this is intended to be a disquietingly reflective number for the blossoming Louise (beautifully played by Simone Perrin), contemplating her future.

But Rothstein makes up for that errant choice in his reimagining of “Rose’s Turn,” in which he literally flashes the domineering matriarch’s life, and those she touched, before her eyes as she ponders for whom she "did it all" -- each of those characters passes by her before taking a seat in the orchestra and playing while she delivers the show’s best notes, literally and figuratively.

Another key twist is that the decidedly small cast of 14 requires most players to assume multiple identities -- no one bounces from character to character better than Eriq Nelson, who expertly portrays Uncle Jocko, Pop, Weber, Kringelein, Mr. Goldstone, Cigar, Pastey, The Announcer, Phil and Miss Cratchitt.

Yes, Miss Cratchitt -- which leads me to the other major twist: Rothstein retrofits the actors portraying Angie (Randy Schmeling), Tulsa (Erik Pearson) and Yonkers (Reid Harmsen) in drag in lieu of the bevy of chorus girls typically needed to fill out Louise’s Toreadorables. The same trio also takes on the key stripper roles of Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra. During “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” the campy gimmick worked to hilarious effect.

The best surprise was Perrin, who effortlessly moved from an unsure, young Louise to a confident Gypsy, with the appropriate mix of sass and class needed for the role. Rich Hamson’s exceptional costume design was completely evocative of the era, and Jennifer DeGolier’s lighting design upped the wattage for the overall production.

Unfortunately, the toughest part about watching this genuinely engaging production was Briskey’s singing voice. Sure she confidently took on one of the toughest, most demanding roles in musical history, but if nothing else, you must have a certain clarity of voice rather than one that continually floats as if in permanent vibrato (perhaps, the demands were already taking their toll by the time I saw the show?). Sadly, she didn’t so much carry a tune as caterwaul throughout most of the show; it was only on “Rose’s Turn” that we mercifully heard a more natural, pleasant-sounding voice (at least for the most part).

It was on this point that made me appreciate LuPone’s performance in August all the more. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but as an aficionado of countless Gypsy productions I believe you either got it or you ain’t.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Gypsy (The SOB Review) – Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL (August 14, 2006)

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At 13 October, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What an interesting sounding production! Doyle-esq? The lambs sound so funny... Such a difficult song to make work. Glad they made a strong choice, at least. Thank you for bringing this production to my attention... I know I too will not be able to forget the magic that was given to us at Ravinia in August.

At 13 October, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Martha, I give Rothstein a lot of credit for innovating on every show he turns out.

Still looking for that story on a British revival of Gypsy. Could you please let me know where you found the original story?

All the best!

At 13 October, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What an interesting sounding production. The lambs sound so funny! Such a difficult song to make work. At least they made a strong choice. Thank you for bringing this production to my attention! I, like you, will never get over the magic that was given to us at Ravinia this summer.

At 29 April, 2010, Anonymous Kalvin Harris said...

Wow this is just great,I was looking out for some Halloween Songs but came across your blog, this is just wonderful. This is the first time i am visiting your blog and loved it.
"we get a pageant of kids in animal costumes that quite frankly made me laugh" Animal Costume HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...


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