2006 Best theater, in this case,

December 31, 2006.By Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press.

4. “Gypsy,” produced by Theatre Latte Da Borrowing technique from British director John Doyle, who has been experimenting with pared-down and re-imagined stagings of such musicals as “Sweeny Todd” and “Company” on Broadway, Peter Rothstein gave local audiences a gritty, effective “Gypsy” in which the actors doubled as musicians.

My favorite moment was – and remains – the scene in which a parade of characters from the life of ultimate stage mother Mama Rose filed past in a gauzy parade near the end of the end of the show.

They quietly assemble into a rag-tag orchestra and accompanied Jody Briskey as she bulled her way through a nervous breakdown of a song called “Rose’s Turn.”

Museum treatments of beloved old musicals have a musty air about them, but Rothstein’s fresh vision took the best of the old show, canted it and then re-presented it to audiences in a way that felt both familiar and new.

Best of Twin Cities area theater in 2006

December 29, 2006.By Rohan Preston and Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Outstanding musical, smaller theaters: Peter Rothstein’s gonzo “Gypsy” for Theatre Latté Da, and Nautilus’ muscular “Man of La Mancha.”

Outstanding director, musical: Patdro Harris for “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Peter Rothstein for “Gypsy.”

Outstanding musical director: Sanford More, “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” and Denise Prosek, “Gypsy.”

Outstanding actress, musical: Everything turned up roses for Jody Briskey in “Gypsy.” She won over Thomasina Petrus, who made a strong showing in “Ain’t Misbehavin.’”

Showbiz Moms

October 18, 2006.by Quinton Skinner, City Pages.

Parenthood: You ask for a prodigy, you get a stripper

It's a venerable rule of entertainment: When talent flags, try titillation. Few embraced this notion with more élan than Gyspy Rose Lee, the great striptease artist of the burlesque era whose memoirs inspired the canonical 1959 musical by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, and Stephen Sondheim, staged here by Theater Latté Da.

The story's fulcrum is Mama Rose (Jody Briskey), a horrid stage mother who compels daughters Louise (Simone Perrin) and June (Katie Allen) to inhale deeply the last wisps of vaudeville. In the early going, Louise and June are children (played by Sarah Cartwright and Julia Wiersum). Leaving Seattle for broader theatrical pastures, Mama Rose proceeds to whip up a song-and-dance routine out of June's talents.

These numbers are excellent, so over-the-top and eager to please that they leave the viewer positively giddy. Then, in mid-number, the children disappear and give way to their grown-up selves—still flogging the same old material and trying to pass themselves off as much younger than they really are. This sort of thing is common in show business—did you know that Lindsay Lohan is actually 37?—but here it leaves a particularly unsavory taste.

Perrin makes the most of this warped time. She has a sweet, high, and occasionally raw voice, and under the stage lights she takes on the image of goofy tomboy in one moment and gorgeous ingenue the next. She renders "Little Lamb" with an affecting ache (while children in animal costumes file through and a lonesome cello moans). And she duets with Allen on "If Momma Was Married" with an easy rhythm that paints the longing and suffering Mama Rose has inflicted on her offspring.

And what of Mama Rose? Well, Briskey plays her with a sort of anti-charm. While her depiction of Rose's doggedness is wholly authentic, she tosses in a self-possession that crosses the border into transparent desperation. This woman is driving these girls, in the end, not because of the glamour, or the money (they never seem to have any); she's not even trying to live through them vicariously. She's doing it because she has to. Success on the stage is the fucking Matterhorn for her, and she's going to climb it. Because it's there.

In the second act June sensibly flees, and Mama Rose tries to reinvent the show with the (seemingly) talent-free Louise. Push eventually comes to shove, and for money's sake the innocent Louise finds herself on the burlesque stage. And she likes it. And she's good at it. Bully for her. Fame and fortune, and reinvention as Gypsy Rose Lee follow. Perrin negotiates it all with an endearing look of amusement—an ugly duckling more than willing to swim in more inviting waters.

Mama Rose faces her ultimate crisis when she tries to figure out what her family's quest was all about. Briskey's taut and spiky performance pays off in a final grandiose turn. It's an understated show that Latté Da's Peter Rothstein has created, and many numbers pass by with little more than piano accompaniment. That makes "Rose's Turn" ("EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES!!!")—with its ragged instrumentation and powerhouse vocal delivery—feel all the more potent. I might be reading too much into things, but in Rose, I felt I had come across a full-fledged raging existential antihero—and in the least likely of places.

'Gypsy' offers some commendable froth: A romp set in the era of transition from vaudeville to burlesque provides lots of enjoyment.

October 11, 2006.By Rohan Preston, Star Tribune.

Ethel Merman should be smiling in her grave.

Jody Briskey, a Twin Citian whose talent emerged years after Merman was laid to rest in 1984, is comically laying claim to Merman's most famous role: the indefatigably hopeful vaudeville maven Mama Rose.

Briskey and her cohorts create more than a scene at the Loring Playhouse, where, on a shoestring budget but with lots of heart and cleverness, director Peter Rothstein and musical director Denise Prosek have guided the cast in a frothy romp from vaudeville to burlesque.

It is a commendable, highly enjoyable effort, even if its bed of music, laid down by pianist Prosek, made it seem a little like “Gypsy” unplugged.

Long before the world heard of scrawny Paris Hilton, so hungry for fame but so lacking in talent, stout Mama Rose was pushing her daughters onstage. That was in the 1920s, when the talkies and burlesque were squeezing out vaudeville. Mama Rose’s forte.

She persevered anyhow, first promoting talented daughter June (Katie Allen), until June decides to have no more of it, then moving on to her second, less-gifted child, Louise (kewpie cutie Simone Perrin), who assumed the stage name Gypsy Rose Lee.

The musical, with its clever lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim and music by Jule Styne, folds macro and micro narrative into one neat package. As one era ends and another begins, a mother must give way to the choices of her daughter (Louise). Mama Rose, who is living through her children but really needs a husband (June and Louise sing a sweet “If Momma Was Married”), considers it vulgar for Louise to become a burlesque star.

Seeing a frothy “Gypsy” after an evening of visceral theater – I experiences the brutal hyperrealism of Tracy Letts’ “Bug” the night before – sharpened my enjoyment of this classic musical, even if the production could use a little more musical muscle. Prosek’s piano is just not enough to create a big, brass sound.

Still, director Rothstein has crafted a sophisticated piece of entertainment. For example, his use of a chorus of men to play most of the ancillary characters (including female parts) only heightened the humor in the production. In addition to Briskey and sweet-faced Perrin, who seemed a little too innocent to be a stripper, this “Gypsy” also featured some child performers and Tod Petersen in a soft-shoe performance as pushover agent Herbie.

No matter the nits, as Briskey sings movingly at the end “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

GYPSY Who: Book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Peter Rothstein for Theatre Latté Da. When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Nov. 5. Where: Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis Tickets: 651-209-6689 or www.latteda.org

Theatre Latte Da Gypsy

October 11, 2006.By Ed Huyck, Talkin’ Broadway.

Already one of the Twin Cities most impressive small companies, Theatre Latte Da crafts another triumph with Gypsy, stripping the show down to its vaudevillian core and highlighting the show's strengths - a strong book, music and lyrics; a central story that is both exotic and familiar; and a core group of characters as interesting as any in musical theater. Add to this terrific performances in the show's three central roles, and you get one of the best productions of the year.

The show - crafted by Arthur Laurents (book), Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) - uses the memoirs of legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee as inspiration, but the show is as much about the mother Rose as the daughter, Louise. Rose comes off as the worst showbiz mom imaginable, manipulating her two daughters from the very first scene and pushing down Louise in favor of her more talented sister, June. Rose has always wanted to be a success in the theater, so she takes her two daughters on the road as they try to crack the upper echelon of vaudeville. Along the way, they collect a trio of young boys to fill out the act, and they get a manager, Herbie, who has his eyes as much on the oft-divorced Rose as he does the act.

They come close to the top, but Rose's inability to let go of her daughters' careers short circuits that, and as the Depression rages and vaudeville slowly dies, the act makes it way back down the ladder. After June leaves, it is left to Louise - who is much less talented than her sister - to carry the show. Their journey eventually finds the troupe in burlesque, which leads to Louise's more famous persona.

Gypsy centers on Rose and her relationships with Herbie and Louise. The three actors dig into their meaty roles with relish. As Louise, Simone Perrin (who made a vocal splash this summer in Kevin Kling's In Hopes of Claudia) shows she has the acting chops to go with the amazing voice. Louise spends much of the show overshadowed by her mother, but it is clear from early on that there is something strong within the timid girl. Tod Petersen plays off the conflict within Herbie to great effect, showing the inner conflicts that finally come to a head at show's end.

In the end, Gypsy is Rose's show, and Jody Briskey is up to the challenge. The character is "on" from the very first moment, as she enters the auditorium where her daughters are preparing their act. From there, she is a bundle of pure energy, never stopping to examine her situation or what the life is doing to her daughters or herself. Instead, it is all the mad pursuit of top billing. Briskey balances this with the woman inside the bluster - the woman who only wants what is best for her children, even if she can't see that what they want most is to be free to make their own decisions. Add in a terrific voice that nails the character's signature act closers "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" and you have one of the best performances of the year.

Director Peter Rothstein embraces vaudeville here, from on-stage antics (a ventriloquist, plate spinners and bad jokes all make appearances) to the title cards that detail each scene. Rothstein's open stage design, where the costume racks are on stage and the actors often wait for their entrances seated in the back, only adds to the sense of being in a theater of the period, as does the small orchestra, which focuses the attention clearly on the voices.

With each production, Theatre Latte Da continues to explore the heart of musical theater, showing that there is much more than glitz and hit songs in the genre.

Gypsy runs through November 5 at the Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $15 to $29. For more information, call 651-209-6689 or visit www.latteda.org.

Gypsy’ at Latte Da has charm to spare

October 8, 2006.By Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press.

“Gypsy” is one of those old-school musicals that, in the wrong hands, can feel as hidebound and dusty as a long-ignored library book. But, in a lean, crisp production, Theater Latte Da turns a new page on an old familiar title.

Exploring the grittier edges of the 1959 musical suggested by the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, Latte Da still hews to the musical tale of the ultimate stage mother and her single-minded efforts to connive, cajole and control daughters June and Louise into stardom.

Old-style footlights and racks of ticky-tacky costumes nicely augment the faded-glory atmosphere of the Loring Playhouse. The denizens of old vaudeville – plate-spinners, ventriloquists and palsied accordion players overseen by leering stage managers – haunt the space like ghosts.

Artistic director Peter Rothstein borrows from British director John Doyle, who has pared down and re-imagined such musicals as “Sweeny Todd” and “Company” for Broadway with spare stagings in which actors double as musicians.

In similar vein, music director Denise Prosek is the backbone of the instrumental ensemble for the Latte Da production. But just about everyone in the 14-member cast eventually picks up an instrument. Young Jake Ingbar accompanies on the cello while Louise sings “Little Lamb.” June and Louise sing and play a four-handed version of “If Mama Was Married” on the piano. Even Mama Rose gets in on the act, tooting out a few bars of “Let Me Entertain You” on the trumpet.

Gimmicky? Maybe. But Rothstein makes sure it has purpose. Near the end of the show, the characters from her life march past Mama Rose in a dream-like parade. They take their positions in a makeshift orchestra that accompanies the matriarch in “Rose’s Turn,” the nervous-breakdown-on-stage that puts an exclamation point on the show’s capstone moment.

The cast fits neatly into this yellowed and hazy vision of the show. Jody Briskey is a titanic Mama Rose – tiptoeing right up to being terrifying before flashing just enough humanity to show why her children and lovers must remain in her orbit. Briskey casts herself headlong into the role and delivers a mesmerizing performance. Her version of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” offers a tone-perfect balance of what the number should be but seldom is – an ebullient tune juxtaposed against a dark turn in the play’s narrative.

Simone Perrin is a more-than-worthy foil playing Louise, the less-beautiful, less-talented daughter who would become Gypsy Rose Lee. Her pouty lips, slight frame and page-boy haircut give her a sense of vulnerability, but you can almost see her Louise accumulating the layers of toughness necessary to eventually confront her mother. And though she might look wispy, there’s nothing meek about her voice.

Tod Petersen demurs nicely as Rose’s would-be husband Herbie, and Katie Allen belts and dances her way admirably through the unenviable role of stage brat June. Erik Pearson, Randy Schmeling and Reid Harmsen contribute solid performances as June’s backup hoofers.

Double-casting this trio as burlesque dancers in the second act calls too much attention to itself (“Hey! Look at the guys in drag!”). But it’s one of a very few missteps in Rothstein’s impressive revision that honors a stage classic while venturing in new directions.


October 1, 2006.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Opening: After a few years of exploring new material, Theatre Latté Da goes back to a musical that ranks among the favorites in the classic American canon. But director Peter Rothstein promises a vaudevillian twist that enhances the cheeky naughtiness inherent in a story about a stripper, her mother and the burlesque business. Jody Briskey, who channeled Judy Garland in 2004’s “Beyond the Rainbow” at History Theatre, goes after another icon, Mama Rose. Tod Petersen is Herbie, the punching bag who is her comfort. Simone Perrin, who dazzled audiences in the recent Fringe Festival with “Tall Tale of a Broke Heart,” plays the title role. Latté Da continues each year to break the previous year’s box-office records on its way to midsized status in the Twin Cities market. Denise Prosek is musical director for this production. (Previews 7:30 p.m. Wed. and 8 p.m. Fri. Opens 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 p.m. next Sun. $15-$29; pay what you can next Sun. Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 651-209-6689 or www.latteda.org.)


October 2006.By The Rake.

Theater Latté Da at Loring Playhouse, October 4-November 5 Theater Latté Da truly excels at plucking gems from the canon of American musicals, dusting them off, and sexing them up for today’s audiences—all the while somehow retaining their original sweetness—the stuff that endears us to such musicals in the first place. Now Latté Da puts a “raunchy, vaudevillian twist” on Gypsy, the 1959 Broadway production loosely based on the memoirs of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee and featuring lyrics by a then-young Stephen Sondheim. Jody Briskey, a local singer with a remarkably big voice, stars as Mama Rose, the overbearing stage mother who pushes her daughters into showbiz and belts out the chestnut “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” 1614 Harmon Place, Minneapolis; 612-339-3003; www.latteda.org.