LYNDA DIVITO AS MAMA ROSE BRINGS DOWN THE HOUSE IN “GYPSY”, IT IS A BRASSY TIGER MOM THAT YOU WILL FALL FOR, THIS IS A MUST SEE.
It is all Roses and the iconic stage mom at CCMT’s final musical for their standing “O” 55th season. "GYPSY” the 1959 creation of Arthur Laurents (West Side Story), Jule Styne (Funny Girl) and Stephen Sondheim still remains among the best classic book musicals. GYPSY is now on stage at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Hofmann Stage through May 1st. Based on the memoir of burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, it is filled with theatrical convention and loaded with memorable songs. The story is time honored, the child's struggle to leave the nest and fly on her own. The classic ‘backstage’ story, GYPSY the original Broadway production was nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical but opened the same year as The Sound of Music, which swept the major awards. It has, however, won countless awards for its many revivals; more major revivals than any other show on Broadway. The musical has been nominated for a record total of 26 Tonys, and has been a star vehicle for some of Broadway’s most iconic divas including Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone.
Director Choreographer Jennifer Perry has assembled a remarkable cast and production team to produce this classic beloved musical. Perry is one of the first rate choreographers in northern California theatre, and matched with her excellent stage direction she has captured this musical at its best. The musical is the home for some Broadway iconic songs including "Let Me Entertain You" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," two of the recognizable numbers that propel the show. Mama Rose is played by the wonderful CCMT regular Lynda DiVito, she is foolproof as the helicopter stage mom. DiVito brings the house down in “Rose's Turn”, and is a charmer with the younger cast. Grace Perry and Ella Dunderdale, play the younger June and Louise and are show stoppers in “Let Me Entertain You”. Dunderdale is superb as Baby June tumbling and dancing with the rest of younger cast in “Baby June And Her Newsboys”. Local favorite Michael Gaffney is the perfect Herbie and his song “You Will Never Get Away From Me” with DiVito is solid.
The story opens as Mama Rose is pushing her two reluctant daughters onto vaudeville stages, who eventually work at the main stream Orpheum circuit. The star, Baby June, is directed by her tiger mother to end her number with a cutesy squeal, as Louise stays self-consciously in the background. The story calls for the cast to age to their teen years with a strobe light effect during “Baby June and Her Newsboys” and we meet the young men in the cast who are all splendid, Jason Rehklau, the impressive Max DeSantis, local favorite and solid Zach Mohammed, and the admirable Keaton Wilkerson. In the “Farm Sequence” with the older June and Louise, Catherine Bartomeo and Jarusha Ariel are perfect as the now older sisters. Ariel's solo “Little Lamb” is polished and she has a first rate voice, Bartomeo shines in the classic “If Momma was Married”. There is a sweet scene with Louise and Tulsa (Rehklau), whom she clearly has a crush on. Ariel again displays her romantic edge and a good voice as she and Bartomeo wistfully sing "Broadway". Rehklau has a handsome solo “All I need is the Girl” as he prepares to elope with June, the two leave the show to get married. Now Momma focuses her attention on Louise. The act concludes with Rose belting out the optimistic "Everything's Coming Up Roses," as Louise and the loyal Herbie watch the cheerful performance realizing that Rose is going to self destruct.
Ariel is a satisfactory actor and charming as Louise, but I wasn’t convinced about her becoming brassy or a confident stripper by the end of Act Two. But this is Rose's show; when it comes to being brassy and self-confident DiVito is a force as Mama. She convinces us that Rose could talk down stars if she just looked up and argued. Gaffney makes Herbie convincing as he admires his Rose, otherwise he wouldn't stick around for as long as he does, seeing a soft side makes him a recognizable human being who truly loves Rose and her two daughters.
Michael McCarty, Paul Plain, and Massimo Cardarelli play various adult roles and are all foolproof character actors, especially McCarty as Mr. Goldstone, who holds his own in “Mr Goldstone” with Mama and the kids. As Louise heads for the stripper runway she meets some wonderful characters including Tessie, Mazeeppa and Elertra, primed entertainers played by the talented Amanda Maxwell, Diella Wottrich and Ali Lane. The three easily steal the second Act in the number “You Got To Have a Gimmick”, one of my favorite Sondheim numbers from this musical.
The dapper, senior Michael Berg plays Pops and brings his charm to his scene with his daughter, Rose. Kerri Shawn is cast as Mrs Cratchitt and brings her comic timing to the Hoffman stage. Perry's choreography shines in this production and her direction keeps this two and half hour musical moving. Elegant entrances and exits and the use of a stage within a stage piece that becomes the center of Kelly James Tighe excellent layered set. Mike Oesch keeps the lighting spot on, and the back stage within a stage is impressive and the use of stage fog to keep his design rich with character.
Music Director Kevin Roland has an impeccable orchestra designed around the ramps of the set. Roland creates Jule Styne sound and music, yet during “Gypsy Strip Routine” and “Gotta Have a Gimmick” I missed that pronounce rim shot and bass drum when the girls do their classic pump and grind moves. The costumes are rich with character and elegance, designed by Liz Martin, the brightest look comes when you meet the older strippers, they are full of camp color and electricity. Martin's costumes propel Ariel from the frumpy wallflower Louise into the elegant stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. Lexie Lazear deigned the many wigs, and Debbie Shelley created the countless props and suitcases for the cast including the famous cow.
GYPSY is a timeless story. The musical is a celebration of life, taking us to all levels, from hope to despair, from truth to illusion. In this production each company member on the stage is a skilled singer and actor and uses their talents to the max adding to the merit of this production. CCMT always brings excellence to their performances, and as Rose brings down the house in “Rose’s Turn” - the sellout crowd were on their feet. Tickets are about sold out for this production but if you can score a seat to see Mama and her team, it will be the perfect show to start your musical summer season.
Contra Costa Musical Theatre Presents
GYPSY A Musical Fable
Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed and Choreographed by Jennifer Perry, Music Director Kevin Roland,
Executive Producer Michael Demers
Through May 1, 2016
Dean Lesher Center for the Arts
Two hours and Thirty Min with an intermission
1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Tickets and more info at http://www.ccmt.org/gypsy
Photo’s by Linda Carter