Inland Valley Repertory Theatre continues its 2014 season midweek at Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion with an audience-pleasing revival of one of the greatest musicals in Broadway history, Gypsy.
Though overshadowed in its original Broadway run by The Sound Of Music and Fiorello (which tied for the 1960 Best Musical Tony), Gypsy has stood the test of time with four Broadway revivals (including two in the 2000s alone), even more cast recordings, and a list of hit songs that seems to go on forever.
Based on the book Gypsy: A Memoir by legendary striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy introduces us to the formidable Mama Rose, the stage mother to end all stage mothers, brought to life in the Broadway original by the one-and-only Ethel Merman in what most consider to be her greatest performance. (In what goes down as one of the biggest upsets—i.e. mistakes—in Tony Award History, Merman lost the Best Actress statuette to Mary Martin for The Sound Of Music.)
IVRT favorite Shaelynn Parker steps into Merman’s shoes (and those of Betty Buckley, Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, and Rosalind Russell) as the mother of a pair of vaudeville child performers who went on to stage and screen fame as actress June Havok and stripper extraordinaire Gypsy Rose Lee.
As Mama Rose pursues stardom for her daughters (and reflected glory for herself), Gypsy treats its audience to one Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim hit after another, including the now classic “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming up Roses”, “You’ll Never Get Away from Me,” and “Let Me Entertain You.”
Snippets of all of the above are introduced in what many consider the finest overture in Broadway history, performed for IVRT by a live eight-piece orchestra under the baton of musical director Patrick Copeland.
In an inspired twist, director Frank Minano and choreographer DawnEllen Ferry stage the Gypsy overture as an extended full-cast dance sequence a la Guys And Dolls, a sort of Street Scene Seattle with couples numbers and a high-kicking chorus line, before segueing to the theater stage where assorted tykes audition for a spot on the vaudeville circuit.
Parker eases us into Mama Rose, letting us see the character’s charm and likability before revealing her manipulative, controlling core. We may gasp at Rose’s “Stage Mother From Hell“ moments, but with Parker in the driver’s seat, we can’t help but like her throughout. Powerhouse vocals make “Some People,” “Small World,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” bona fide applause-getters. As for “Rose’s Turn,” Gypsy’s eleventh hour showstopper-to-end-all-showstoppers, Parker sings it like nobody’s business.
Joe Musil provides solid support as Herbie, Rose’s longtime, long-suffering boyfriend, whether joining in on the jaunty “Together Wherever We Go” or revealing Herbie’s hurt and betrayal.
Bobby Collins delivers the evening’s finest supporting performance as Tulsa, the handsome hoofer who steals Louise’s heart, “All I Need Is The Girl” revealing a charismatic song-and-dance man in Gene Kelly tradition.
The Act Two showstopper “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” provokes some of the evening’s loudest laughs and cheers as performed by the terrific trio of Annalise Staudt, Amanda Knight, and Valerie Jasso as seasoned strippers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra.
Lindsey Conway reveals star quality as teenaged Dainty June, with the adorable Brooklyn Vizcarra and Sequoia Valverde earning audience affection as Baby June and Little Louise.
Kim Knight (Uncle Jocko, Mr. Kringelei, Bourgeron), Cindy Smith (Miss Cratchitt), Michael Buczynski (Pop, Cigar), Ken Martinez (Pastey, Weber), Mark MacKenzie (Georgie, Phil), and director Minano (Mr. Goldstone) capably fill various cameo roles.
Santos Hemenway (L.A.), Joshua David Martin (Yonkers), and Aaron McKinley Lyons (Angie) are handsome, deft-footed chorus boys, with Nicole Bravo, Laura DeLano, Jessica Puertas, and Kimmy Zolozabal (a very funny Agnes) as their lovely female counterparts.
In a clever turn, Melanie Gettler (Waitress) and Mary Pettigrove (Renee, the Maid) double as showgirls, introducing the location of each scene with vaudeville-style title cards.
Youngsters Kellen Ford, Cesar Gomez, and Tyler Jenkins show off dance promise as Newsboys, while Audition Kids Emma Blassingham, Elise Burt (Balloon Girl), Marley Davis, Stacy Hanson (Flute Girl), Angie Lopez, Joseph Martinez-Kurtti, Arianna Nelson, and Indie Von Martin are all petite charmers.
Canine cutie Lucy appears as Chowsie, with Susan & Sage Crafa, Samantha Enright, and Janet Worsham appearing in cameo roles.
Jenny Wentworth’s costumes prove visual treats. Cliff Senior’s wigs are his usual top quality save Louise’s shoe-polish back wig (which merits a swift replacement). Daniel Morefield’s lighting is thoroughly professional as are Cindy Smith’s props and Nick Galvan and Andrew Piña’s sound design. Mark MacKenzie does his best to modify sets designed for Candlelight’s concurrently running Crazy For You; still, scenic design is this Gypsy’s weakest aspect, no match for what you’d see in a CLO (or Candlelight mainstage) production.
Cast members Collins and Martinez double as stage managers. Victoria Ferry, Katherine Minano, Cecilia Poon, and Elizabeth Walsh are crew.
Performed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Inland Valley Repertory Theatre’s Gypsy makes for crowd-pleasing midweek entertainment for those in and around Claremont. As for the musical itself, they don’t come much better than Gypsy.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
April 9, 2014