'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