HowWasTheShowBy David and Chelsea Berglund
February 21, 2016
Gypsy, produced by Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust and running at the Pantages through March 13, is exactly the type of show critics relish writing about, or at least these critics. With a poignant book by Arthur Laurents, iconic music by Jule Styne, and smart lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, the story of Mama Rose and her daughters trying to make it big on vaudeville continues to ring true today. And this production is a stunning rendition of the classic show.
First things first, Michelle Barber as Mama Rose absolutely brings down the house. With a cast as tremendously talented as her co-performers, she nevertheless commands the stage while bringing believability and sincerity to her role. Mama Rose is one of the most interesting characters in the musical theater repertoire, and Barber captures every bit of nuance the role offers. This is bound to be one of the best performances of the year – a powerhouse showstopper that is not to be missed.
That’s not to say that her fellow performers are overshadowed. This cast is made up of some of the best young thespians these cities have to offer, and they do not disappoint. Cat Brindisi (also Barber’s real-life daughter) dynamically plays the titular role and displays an extraordinary range of emotion with honesty, both in singing and dialogue. Shinah Brashears portrays “Dainty” June as both a performer with chintzy vaudevillian charm and, offstage, a young woman yearning for a different life during the lovely “If Momma Was Married” duet she shares with Brindisi. Tyler Michaels brings his beautiful voice and trademark physicality to the role of Tulsa, a backstage dreamer who sweeps the girls up in his fantasies. Stage veteran Tod Peterson plays Mama Rose’s love interest and manager, Herbie, and matches Barber at every turn, bringing a fierce protectiveness and warmth to the makeshift “family” of the show.
The whole production soars under Peter Rothstein’s inspired direction. His immersive vision of the decaying world of vaudeville is juxtaposed with the hopes of the characters and allows all of the story’s elements to convey deeper meaning. Mary Shabatura’s electric, textured lighting design likewise underlines the characters’ misplaced delusions of grandeur. Michael Hoover’s aging, cluttered, yet simple sets captured a sense of mournfulness and history. Denise Prosek’s musical direction swells with energy and emotion and perfectly hits every note. And every other piece of this production, from the intricate costuming by Alice Fredrickson to the the spot-on sound design by Alex Ritter, comes together under Rothstein’s keen eye.
In other words, this is one of those rare productions that works on every level. It is a transportive and engrossing experience from the first note to the last. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see truly great theater, and for our part, we hope to have shared enough superlatives to convince you to experience it for yourself. Do not miss it.
David and Chelsea Berglund review movies at their site Movie Matrimony.