HowWasTheShowBy Janet Preus
February 21, 2016
Theater Latte Da and the Hennepin Theater Trust have partnered up to bring their own Broadway-style version of Gypsy to downtown Minneapolis, and I’m going to make a prediction: This is the Twin Cities show of the year. Yes, go!
The Tony Award-winning Gypsy, which premiered in 1959, chronicles Mama Rose and her obsessive ambition to raise her daughters to show business stardom via the Vaudeville circuit. One would become the famous burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee, not at all what Mama Rose had in mind.
Latte Da’s artistic director, Peter Rothstein, has recreated this iconic show with loving care, featuring all local performers in starring roles. It’s casting perfection. The real-life mother and daughter team, Michelle Barber and Cat Brindisi as Mama Rose and her daughter Louise are exactly right.
Shina Brashears as Louise’s sister, June, finesses an over-the-top role and makes it shimmer in anticipation. With almost imperceptible inevitability, the cracks appear in June’s loyalty to Mama Rose. Her heart is no longer in performing, the relationship collapses and Rose’s tyranny begins its descent.
This is where Barber’s steely portrayal digs in. The light bars tremble, the stage floor rumbles … ok, not really, but you may think they should. Her coup de grace, “Rose’s Turn” has to be the most powerful unraveling written for musical theater. Barber absolutely skewers it, and her strained recovery and redemption is as satisfying as theater gets. Oh, wow, oh wow, oh wow.
Brindisi is so awkward as the young – and overlooked – Louise that it made you wonder just how she’d pull off (so to speak) that ending we knew was coming. Oh, but she did! Sparkling in her own right, and playing her new role as a beauty with brains, Brindisi’s Louise was her mother’s daughter in all the best ways.
Also featured were Tyler Michaels as Tulsa, a role that’s a great fit (at last) for this popular local performer, and Tod Petersen as Herbie, who brought balance to the young performers’ lives, tempering Rose’s drive with genuine affection and concern. He was believable as both a foil for Rose’s character and a partner for the woman he loved.
Emily Jansen, Kate Beahen, Derek Prestly, Matt Rubbelke, Ed Williams and Eriq Nelson were terrific as backup performers and additional roles. I will take issue with one characterization: Eriq Nelson played several roles, each one of them skillfully, but so over-the-top that it felt like those characters were in the wrong show.
A passel of kids as young June’s backups were adorable, which was the point – more underscore for Rose’s autocratic rule over their young lives.
Denise Prosek was music director for a very nice, small and tight, live band. I only wish they had not cut the overture.
It’s been more than half a century since Gypsy first “hit the heights,” and it’s enjoyed a string of revivals since then – so many, in fact that it’s never really gone away. There’s a reason that critics often name it as the greatest American musical. The book (by Arthur Larents) has a perfect arc, the characters and relationships are timeless, and every song (music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim) lands as it should. And who hasn’t heard these songs: “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” “Together (Wherever We Go),” “Small World,” and “Let Me Entertain You”?
Shall I rave on? Rothstein has outdone himself this time – not with more cross-dressing dancers (but there are some), or flashing lights (those, too). He had a clear vision about where he was going and he arrived with grace and wit. Yes, we were entertained and we had a real good time, but we also felt connected to something bigger than just singing and dancing.
See this show. Not just because it’s well done, but because it’s done right, with respect for what made the show great in the first place. This takes humility as artists. But for the audience, the show is lifted from a spectacle to just spectacular. There’s a difference and it’s profound.
Gypsy runs through March 13 at the Pantages Theater. Program notes say that June and Louise’s act performed in the Twin Cities, perhaps at the Pantages itself?