A weak first act, a considerably more successful second, and a terrific Tara Pitt throughout add up to a mixed bag of a Gypsy revival at Theatre Out, but one still worth checking out for Pitt’s powerhouse performance as (wonder of wonders) an age-appropriate Mama Rose.
The real-life Rose Hovick hadn’t even hit thirty when she bellowed “Sing out, Louise!” and was barely into her forties when she proclaimed to an unjust universe that it was “Rose’s Turn,” but you’d hardly know it from the ladies who’ve brought their star power to the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents “musical fable” since its 1959 Broadway debut.
Unlike Ethel Merman (51), Bernadette Peters (55), Patti LuPone (59), Imelda Staunton (59), or Barbra Streisand (film talks are still ongoing as Babs approaches 75), Pitt convinces us that she could be mom to a couple of preteens, that she’s still alluring to a Herbie himself under 40, and that even in the musical’s grand finale, she is still not too far over the hill to wish for her turn at last.
Still, a production needs more than one standout performance to wow us as Gypsy should.
Director David C. Carnevale has some imaginative ideas for scaling a big-stage Broadway extravaganza down to black-box proportions, and the opening sequence that frames this Gypsy as a memory musical is one of them, though to reveal in the production’s earliest moments the glamorous star Louise Hovick was to become robs us of oohs and aahs at her eventual metamorphosis into Gypsy Rose Lee.
The children (Avery Henkenius as Baby Louise, Mikayla Lynch as Baby June, Cooper Mizell, Wilson Mizell, Isaac Randall, and Seth Randall, Jr.) who audition for vaudeville emcee Uncle Jocko tickle us as they should, but having delicate-faced teen Brian Bolanos as Jocko is the first indication that not all casting choices will be as age-right as Pitt’s Mama Rose.
Before long, Baby June And Her Newsboys have been replaced by Dainty June And Her Farmboys, with a Dainty June (Parker Morrison Tuason) who appears to be around Mama’s years and a pair of “teens” (Andrew Knifer as L.A. and Dustin Thompson as Yonkers) long past their days of being carded. (With an additional half-dozen cast members, there wouldn’t be the need to have adult and teen roles played by the same performers, and this goes for Act Two’s Toreadorables as well.)
Louise (Alexis Stansfield) at least is credible in terms of age, though she would be even more so pre-“transformation” without so much blush and a Julie Christie ‘60s do that remains pretty much the same throughout the show.
Fortunately there is Pitt from the get-go, thrilling us with “Some People,” charming us with “Small World” and “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” delighting us with “Mr. Goldstone, I Love You,” and sending us off to intermission with a bang with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
Fortunately too, things get a whole lot better once Gypsy enters the world of striptease.
“Ecdysiasts” Mazeppa (Jennifer Sundell), Tessie Tura (Victoria Durham), and Electra (Tuason) may be the hottest messes ever on display in a Z-grade burlesque, but they are nothing if not entertaining, particularly the Rebel Wilson-esque Sundell showing off one magnificent set of pipes and Durham a delicious Spice Girls accent. (Still, I’d axe Mazeppa’s grosser shtick and her baffling fright makeup.)
“You’ve Got To Get A Gimmick” proves every bit the Act Two showstopper it’s intended to be, and Stansfield’s performance really takes off as Gypsy Rose Lee begins to do the same, her final scenes opposite Pitt crackling with the fire of a confident young woman finally coming into her own. (And this is one Gypsy we can believe actually strips.)
Korey Gene Mitchell is quite good as Herbie, and a plausible romantic presence in Rose’s life. Tom Royer does well in assorted older cameos. Bolanos show promise as Tulsa, but his “All I Need Is The Girl” needs more projection, presence, and pizzazz to make it work. Samantha Rose, Mia-Bella Josimovic, and Doreen Nguyen do well in assorted cameos, with special snaps to Rose’s ditzy blonde Amanda née Agnes.
Lauren Shoemaker is stage manager and Tiffany Kosek is assistant stage manager.
Lindsay Martin has choreographed some lively dance moves, Gabby Madonado scores points for her musical direction (the cast perform unmiked to prerecorded tracks), Joy Chesmar-Bice’s lighting is effective throughout, and Carnevale and Joey Baital have come up with a scenic design that makes ingenious use of Theatre Out’s matchbook-sized stage.
Still, this is Pitt’s show from start to finish, her “Rose’s Turn” climaxing the production with the evening’s loudest cheers, a star turn that merits final, unshared bows.
The musical may be titled Gypsy, but with Tara Pitt as the stage mom to end all stage moms, they should call this one Rose.
Theatre Out, 402 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana.
June 11, 2106
Photos: David C. Carnevale