'Gypsy' Is Lovable, But Far Too Loud

February 21, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

For some Broadway aficionados, "Gypsy" is the ultimate embodiment ofshow biz -- "Curtain up! Light the lights!" and all that.

But I must confess at the outset that this story of Stage Mama Rose, the domineering know-it-all who runs roughshod over the lives of her two marginally talented daughters, has never captured my enthusiasm or affection.

Rose, along with her steel lungs, is a gratingly dysfunctional presence who manipulates and bullies those around her, even as her shunted-aside daughter Louise mutates into -- boom-chick-a-boom-chick-a-boom-boom -- Gypsy Rose Lee, the famed stripper destined to become "Hollywood Squares" fodder in her old age.

I don't know, the premise just doesn't sing to me.

Of course, with three songs that have become mega-standards ("Let me Entertain You," "Together" and "Everything's Coming up Roses"), "Gypsy's" score is nothing to sneeze at.

Add the novelty songs and some deliciously awful production numbers that can be a riot when done right, and you've got a show worth doing well -- even if it's not a Greenfield favorite.

"Gypsy" is currentlyin production at the Annapolis Dinner Theater and, for the most part, it is an enjoyable affair. With some judicious knob-twiddling, things could go even better.

The entire production is simply too loud.

The taped orchestra is amplified within an inch of the sound system's life. The overture blares. Lyrics are frequently obscured, and the entire cast is forced to belt its way through song after song.

This could take a real toll over a two-month run, especially for Dotti Mach, a very good Rose who winds up pumping out this unrelenting score every second she's singing onstage (Even Ethel Merman got to croon a little bit in "Small World").

By the time Mach reaches her climatic numbers -- "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Roses Turn" -- she has nowhere to go vocally. It's all she can do to get the blockbusters out, let alone really sell them.

Unless Mach is allowed to pace herself more, the edges will continue to fray, and real vocal problems might ensue.

That would be a shame, because Mach's performance is otherwise excellent. Her Rose is energetic, feisty and quite touching in the finale -- though ultimately she remains a deplorable character.

The talented Francine Joyce Kent is very good as Louise, the no-talent who wins fame as the queen of burlesque. She is attractively cute and breezy early on, and makes her debut as a stripper witha delightful sense of horror. Kent's bright soprano timbre is a welcome respite from the rest of the show's vocal angst.

Chuck Richards is most appealing as Herbie, the good-natured manager and suitor who also winds up sporting Rose's footprints on his back.

"Gypsy's" production numbers are all great fun. Jim Newcomb makes a hysterical foil in "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You."

Heather Soroka and Kristen Swieconek are appropriately cloying as Baby June and Young Louise. Bothsacrifice their obvious talents enough to be more obnoxious than good, and it works beautifully. They are very funny.

I must also pay my respects to the three gimmicky strippers:

Marti Pogonowski as Mazeppa, the bugle-blowing hotsy-totsy girl from the Roman legions; Carol Cohen, scantily clad as Tessy Tura, a lepidopterist's erotic dream; and the "electric" Anna Walker who, alas, doesn't look like any English teacher I ever had.

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