'Gypsy' struts at college

September 18, 1994|By Charlotte Sommers | Charlotte Sommers,Contributing Writer

To say that a show about a striptease artist suffers from overexposure may seem odd.

The hit 1959 musical "Gypsy," the fascinating story of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, made show business history. But after countless stage productions, a popular movie version and a recent television production starring Bette Midler, this show has been done to death.

One would hope, then, that the Phoenix Festival Theater production playing at Harford Community College through next Sunday would offer some fresh perspective, updated choreography or perhaps some contemporary twist.

Alas, the show looks and feels as tired as an aging stripper going through the motions.

The first mistake director Chuck DeLong makes is to give away the payoff two minutes into the show.

For some misguided reason, he has chosen to stage the overture as a muddled synopsis of the story and features Gypsy Rose Lee in all her burlesque regalia. Doesn't he know the chief pleasure for the audience is watching the transformation of dowdy Louise into gorgeous Gypsy Rose Lee?

The next blunder follows immediately in the opening scene, Uncle Jocko's Vaudeville Kiddie Show. Those words alone conjure up an image of bratty stage-struck kids rehearsing their acts, teasing each other, and generally acting like kids. Yet in this production, a dozen mute, obedient children are lined up and have nothing to do except stare at the audience.

This uninspired direction sets the tone for the remainder of the evening, and with the show clocking in at a mind-numbing three hours, it's a very long evening.

The tedium is unrelieved by scenery changes. The entire set consists of a brick wall, whether the scene is indoors or outside. The furnishings are sparse, and in one scene, an actor actually has to mime opening a door for the scene to make sense.

"Gypsy" chronicles the story of Mama Rose and her daughters June and Louise as they take their act on the road during the waning days of vaudeville.

One of musical theater's most compelling characters, Rose is much more than the quintessential stage mother. She is a true believer in the American dream, but in her version, the measure of success is not security or wealth, but top billing for her daughters. So fierce is Rose's determination that she is unswayed by national events such as the Great Depression and the demise of vaudeville.

As Rose, Donna Gedman certainly has the requisite grit and drive, but her performance lacks shading. Every line is delivered at breakneck speed at the top of her voice, and she seems always to be in a great hurry.

Her most successful scenes are those with her boyfriend Herbie, portrayed with warmth and pathos by veteran actor Al Herlinger.

In a clever bit of casting, Louise is played by Marie Gedman, real-life daughter of Donna Gedman's Mama Rose. The younger Ms. Gedman deserves applause for her intelligent portrayal as she convincingly makes the metamorphosis from gawky adolescent to sexy, self-confident star. She shines vocally as well.

The early musical numbers are entertaining due in large part to the considerable talents of Sara Ruzicka, who as Baby June plays shamelessly to the audience as she takes bow after bow.

And as the older June, Becky Titelman effectively shows us June's dilemma as a talented young woman trapped in her mother's dream.

Some sparkling moments are also provided by Eyvo in his portrayal of Tulsa, the talented chorus boy who dreams of being the next Fred Astaire. Eyvo's 100-watt smile and dazzling dance moves brighten up the stage whenever he appears.

Of course, the comic highlight of any production of "Gypsy" is the strippers' tour de force, "You Gotta Get A Gimmick."

Mary Elizabeth Mullin displays some fine comedic timing as the flamboyant Tessie Tura. But the bump-and-grind award must go to Eleni Densmore as the trumpet-toting Mazeppa.

When Ms. Densmore struts her stuff, her gravelly voice and pugnacious attitude, not to mention her imposing breastplate, are indeed awesome.

For ticket information: 836-4211.

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