Characters and singing are the draw for 'Gypsy' Talented pit band enhances production

May 14, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The production of "Gypsy" at St. Martin's Community Theatre in Severna Park won't dazzle you with lights, sets, or high-kicking choreography. But the singing is first-class, and meticulous care has been taken to present the show's indelible characters in a most affecting manner.

A production of "Gypsy" lives and dies with Mama Rose, the stage mother from hell, and St. Martin's Maribeth Eckenrode had me scared of her from first entrance to last. A regular on the Baltimore community theater circuit, Eckenrode is no larger-than-life Mermanesque belter.

Her Rose is all too frighteningly human as she runs roughshod over her daughters' lives in the emotionally reckless manner that prompts one to run away and the other to escape by bumping and grinding her way onto the burlesque runway as Gypsy Rose Lee.

Eckenrode can be lovable in her lighter songs, such as "Together Wherever We Go," but director Mary James makes no attempt to tone down Rose's disagreeable aspects. "Everything's Coming Up Roses" is delivered just as it should be -- with daughter Louise and Herbie, the affable beau, looking on in horror as their lives are commandeered anew by Rose's maniacal optimism. A bad parent, to be sure, but great theater.

Kimberley Stringfellow is good most of the way as Louise, the good-natured daughter turned queen of burlesque. She's sweet, vulnerable and funny, and contributes a delightful "If Momma Was Married" with Lisa Wright Matthews as her sister, June.

Where she could give more, though, is in her cathartic break with Momma. When she finally tells Rose off, her punches seemed pulled and measured.

There are good bits from Matthews as June and Bryant Centofani as Herbie, the hapless suitor who is finally frozen out by Rose's icy indomitability.

There's also a wonderful "All I Need Is the Girl" (maybe the best song in the show) from Jason Kimmell and a cute "Gotta Have a Gimmick" from strippers Pat Saiia, Lori Hamby, and Debra Cooke.

Kudos to St. Martin's for using such talented players, many of them youngsters, in the pit band. They played exceptionally well.

The show is already tightly organized and well paced. If musical and emotional rhythms could be made to jell more, this "Gypsy" will have nothing to hit but the heights.

For ticket information and times, call 410-647-4360.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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