Gypsy, A Musical Fable, a Broadway classic that debuted in 1959, has become intertwined with the DNA of most Baby Boomers, Gen Xs, Gen Ys, and even Millennials. The book by Arthur Laurents was inspired by the 1957 memoirs of the famous vedette, author and TV personality Gypsy Rose Lee (nee Rose Louise Hovic). Its music is by Jule Styne and the lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.
Gypsy’s sister was actress June Hovic. Their tyrannical mother was Rose Thompson Hovic.
The story rotates around a young woman who eventually – and unexpectedly — finds fame as a burlesque stripper when the waning days of vaudeville eliminates venues for song and dance acts.
Ovations Senior Company is a group of young thespians in grades eight through 12, though some of the cast members hailed from fifth grade. As a cohesive unit, the cast of nearly four dozen, under the superb direction of Director and Producing Artistic Director Darnell Patrick Morris, dove into this show with a high level of professionalism, energy and clear understanding of the roles.
Making Morris’ job more complicated is the fact that a dozen of the main roles are performed at the Friday evening and Saturday matinee, and a second group takes over for the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee performances. The show has only four performances this weekend.
This review is based on the performances at the Friday evening show.
Music Director Mayumi B. Griffie directs a sharp, enthusiastic 8-person orchestra, all clad in black. Griffie does double duty as a pianist – and gamely takes grief and bossy directions from Momma Rose. Aaron Miller plays drums and percussion instruments with the cool demeanor of a seasoned cabaret musician.
Gypsy’s costumes – seemingly hundreds of them – from cutesy-pie pinafores and Mexican show outfits in primary colors to evening gowns that disappear with the flick of a wrist – were designed by Costume Designer Eleanor Dicks.
Choreographer Dani Ebbin and Dance Captain Elisa McCaw turned a cast of young boys and girls into pros on the dance floor.
The constantly-changing set created by Scenic Designer James Raymond was a stage within a stage. Set midway back on the stage was a high, detailed proscenium arch with its own set of curtains. Behind it, the audience could see what appeared to be an old crumbling brick wall. The sets, furniture and props were swiftly and silently whisked on and off stage by the cast. On either side of the proscenium were sign holders. As the venue of scenes shifted from Seattle, down the coast of California, and back-and-forth across the country, cast members would slide out the old signs and insert new ones.
The show, on the surface, is about Gypsy Rose Lee’s surprising rise to fame – but it’s really about the demon every child performer and model (and the people who love them) fears: the domineering, pushy, conniving, amoral backstage mother.
That’s Momma Rose.
This Momma Rose, portrayed by Blake High senior Chloe Friedman, has a stunning voice that starts strong and gets stronger as she tears through such classics as “Some People,” “Small World,” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” A real showstopper.
She enthralled the audience Friday evening – but they were all glad she’s not their momma!
Similarly, Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee, portrayed by Meghan Carey, a Whitman High junior, is a solid, passionate singer as she realizes where her fortunes lie in “Let Me Entertain You.” Her rendition of the song becomes fuller, more passionate, brash and teasing as she expands into the singing and dancing for which she will be renowned.
It is a far cry from the sweet “May We Entertain You?” sung by the two sisters as tots.
Another surprise is Sam Salem, how plays Herbie, Momma Rose’s love interest, is still a freshman at Quince Orchard High. He switches roles with Tyller Kenke, a Walter Johnson High senior – another solid performer.
June and Louise were portrayed at different stages of their young lives by at least a half-dozen young actors. One among a cast of standouts was Sadie Schulman, a Washington Episcopal School fifth-grader.
In the show, Momma Rose, who was abused and neglected by her own mother, and who has divorced three husbands in rapid succession, decides her daughter June is destined for show business stardom. Though her mother won’t lend or give her money, Momma Rose and her two girls hit the road hoping to land some vaudeville gigs. Along the way, Momma Rose recruits other youth to form a show company “Baby June and Her Newsboys.”
Momma Rose falsifies the children’s ages and does other questionable stunts to get the kids’ some stage time. She also meets and falls in love, Momma-style, with Herbie (Sam Salem), a former agent who is now making a living as a candy salesman. She uses her seductive charm to lure him into a relationship – and to become the troupe’s manager.
Louise is dressed through most of the play as a boy – or concealed in a silly cow costume. Momma Rose usually ignores her, focusing her efforts on June, who is younger, prettier and, in Momma Rose’s eyes, more talented. Even on Louise’s birthday, her mother is absent.
When Tulsa (Jack Rosenberg – a Poolsville High sophomore), a member of the “Dainty Jane and Her Farmboys” troupe tells Louise he’s looking for a dance partner, Louise hopes it will be her. Instead, he elopes with June.
With her main breadwinner gone, Momma Rose redirects her iron focus to the hapless Louise.
Abigail “Abby” Delaney, another Blake High senior, plays several roles in the show, including a comedic, frog-voiced Miss Cratchitt and an alluring Dressy Tessie Tura.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Gypsy, A Musical Fable, a production of Ovations Theatre Senior Company, plays through 1 p.m. March 4, at the JCC-Kreeger Auditorium located at 6125 Montrose Rd, Rockville, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $25, or online for $20. Parking on site is free.