We can hold our breath but we’re never likely to get another musical as perfect as Gypsy. Sixty Broadway seasons ago it caught the unique charms and pathology of show business in a magic bubble that still floats along today, casting its spell even over audiences with no memory of vaudeville at all.
For proof, make a date with Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia.
Directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick have a new in-the-round staging that might be called a “stripped down” look at the birth of a stripper. It trades in all the show’s usual gilded prosceniums and velvety curtains for Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins’ exposed brick walls and cheesy footlights.
When Ross Scott Rawlings gives the downbeat and the pit band strikes up the overture, we are backstage again at one of New York’s fading grand dame vaudeville houses, watching the painful climb to fame by the unknown Gypsy Rose Lee.
The lyrics by future legend Stephen Sondheim and the melody wizardry of composer Jule Styne provide the “perfect storm” of hit show tunes. One would almost say Gypsy is a “jukebox musical” if it didn’t have characters with such depth and dimension.
There have been many famous and even glamorous interpreters of Momma Rose, the ultimate stage mother with a self-defeating excess of drive. At Toby’s, actress Cathy Mundy gives a real human face to the woman’s vicarious ambitiousness. She only now and then softens her single-minded resolve with a pixieish twinkle of abandoned happiness.
Mundy’s voice is a force of nature. Whether taking on the world in “Some People,” batting down all resistance in “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” or working up to a nuclear meltdown in “Rose’s Turn,” Mundy gives us a Rose determined not to “go gentle” into anyone’s good night.
To her charitable, open-hearted manager Herbie, Rose is a “pioneer woman without a frontier.” In “Small World,” David Bosley-Reynolds, another wonderful veteran star at Toby’s, gives Rose the strongest reason she’ll ever find for settling down.
All of the singing voices in this Gypsy are strong and clear, though none more than the amazing MaryKate Brouillet in the title role. Her sweet sincerity elevates the heart-on-its-sleeve sentiment of “Little Lamb” and later adds fire to the show-stopping sisterly duet of “If Momma Was Married.”
The other half of that duet, Louisa Tringali, has more impressive vocal equipment than required in the role of Dainty June. Happily, it gives her other opportunities for serving up some choice bits of comic timing.
Lanky-framed Shiloh Orr gets to share a dreamy moment in the spotlight as Tulsa in “All I Need Now Is the Girl.” And the trio of those seasoned burlesque headliners — Elizabeth Rayca, Tina Marie DeSimone, and Heather Beck — brings down the house on cue in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”
A large ensemble cast provides strong support throughout. Russell Sunday, Jeffrey Shankle, David James, Robert Biedermann, Coby Kay Callahan and other star players in the Toby’s stock company prove their value in numerous cameos.
The show is stolen early on by young newcomers like Nina Brothers (alternating in the part of Baby June with Camden Lippert) and Maddie Ellinghaus (alternating with Sophie Crossland as Baby Louise). Others featured in the expert child ensemble are Cooper Trump, Jackson Smith and Hannah Dash.
Nothing like a snowy winter chill to make us all want to cozy up around a stage glowing with musical talent. Gypsy at Toby’s will help you shed your cabin fever doldrums faster than you can say “Let Me Entertain You.”
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
Gypsy plays through March 17, 2019, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required. For tickets, call 301-596-6161, 410-730-8311, 800-88TOBYS, or go online.