“Stage Mother” is a phrase that usually gives people the shivers as they imagine the overbearing and the pushy, with the poor kids left in their wake as she determinedly strives to turn them into stars. But sometimes a Stage Mother is a magnificent sight to behold, like in the current production of GYPSY playing at the Cygnet Theatre through September 4th.
While one of the daughters does end up as a headliner, both in the show and as the name of the show, this story is and will always be about the woman behind the name. The stage mother in question here is Rose, the woman who dreams of stardom for her girls, June and Louise. Played by Linda Libby, Rose’s ambition and ever growing desperation is a tangible thing. Libby is a force of nature, and her energy through the show, as the characters ever insistent drive to a goal strips her further from the family she is trying to hold together, never flags even when she is on stage nearly the entire show.
Iconic shows can be tricky, and this one probably more so than most as so many of the songs are ones that even non-musical theatre lovers know. But when Libby belts out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” at the end of Act one and “Roses Turn” at the end of Act two, the layers of the emotional performance make you realize these songs are only iconic when performed with this kind of power.
Libby is supported by an excellent cast, including the stunning and versatile Allison Spratt Pearce, who as Louise transforms so completely from frumpy and shy to glamorous and confident you almost think the parts were being played by two people. As the talented but fed up Dainty June, Katie Whalley Banville is funny and versatile. Manny Fernandes as Rose’s ever patient and accommodating love Herbie brings a real warmth to this character, and his commitment to helping provide for this troupe. His final frustration and confrontation with Rose as he realizes his dreams will always come second to hers is heartbreaking.
As always, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” is a popular number with the audience and here is no exception. Played by Marci Anne Wuebben, Kendra Truett and Marlene Montes, these three are bawdy babes that are strip specialists that entertain as they educate Louise on her new found career.
Also, give a cheer for the great kids ensemble casts that alternate performances!
The set is reflective of the show embracing the end of the vaudeville era, with the cue cards giving place and location for each scene. Combined with the lovely costumes by Jeanne Reith and Chris Rynne’s lighting this show has a quality that evokes the idea that these people and places are down, but not yet out, as vaudeville is starting to take its final bow.
The music, led by Terry O’Donnell from behind the scenes adds the final cherry on top of this vintage, character driven sundae.
While the show may be set in the past, in a world where fame is king and people scramble to be a star through any venue they may find, I feel like Mamma Rose is as relevant now as she was then.
Catch the cast of GYPSY at the Cygnet Theatre before the curtain goes down on September 4th. For show time and ticket information go to www.cygnettheatre.com