Susan Granger’s review of “Gypsy” (MTC – Sept. 2016)
Launching its 30th anniversary season, the Music Theater of Connecticut reimagines this classic show business fable in a smaller chamber setting, giving it an unusual intimacy.
Set in the 1920s-1930s, the story revolves around the relentless ambition of Mama Rose to make her youngest daughter, Baby June, a star on the vaudeville circuit and, later, turning her focus on her insecure older daughter Louise, who eventually becomes the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
Sharply staged by director Kevin Connors with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, it reveals the shabby backstage shenanigans of an assertive stage mother/manager.
Her girls do her proud with perpetually smiling Abby Sara Dahan and stoic Natalie Steele as the younger versions, melding convincingly with their grown counterparts, played by Carissa Massaro as June and Kate Simone as Louise. The latter take over the roles seamlessly during the “Let Me Entertain You” transition, eliciting spontaneous applause.
Restlessly roaming the small stage, Kirsti Carnahan grapples with pugnacious Mama Rose, never quite summoning the energy and vocal strength to propel the show, eventually allowing the complex poignancy of “Rose’s Turn” to slip from her grasp.
The two most memorable musical numbers feature endearing Joe Grandy as the talented chorus boy Tulsa, warbling “All I Need is the Girl,” and dazzling Jodi Stevens stunning as the stripper Mazeppa, triumphing with her trumpet in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”
Rounding out the cast are Paul Binotto, likable as Rose’s agent boyfriend Herbie, along with Jeri Kansas, Marcia Leigh, Peter McClung, Chris McNiff, Abigail Root, and Brittany Cattaruzza. Conductor/pianist Thomas Martin Conroy makes terrific music with Luke McGuinness, Chris Johnson, and Gary Ruggiero.
FYI: Since the show opened in 1959, starring Ethel Merman, Mama Rose has been played by Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, among others. And Baby June became actress June Havoc (Gentleman’s Agreement 1947) and longtime resident of Wilton’s Cannon Crossing.
“Gypsy” plays at MTC through Sept. 25.