Let 'Gypsy' entertain you in lively Camelot show

Camelot's production of "Gypsy," directed and choreographed by Rebecca K. Campbell and starring Livia Genise as Mama Rose, lives up to the expectations of fans and offers first-timers in the audience a real treat.

"Gypsy" is arguably one of the best musicals ever written. Based on the memoirs of burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee, "Gypsy" follows Mama Rose as she travels the country with her two young daughters, June and Louise, in the 1920s and '30s, fiercely determined to make them vaudeville stars while also denying them a chance at a normal life.

The story traces Rose's relationships with her daughters as her ambitions for them eventually drive them away from her and destroy her only chance at true love. The story also charts the decline of vaudeville and the rise of burlesque as young Gypsy Rose Lee goes from child performer to working in a strip club.

The 1959 musical was written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Jule Styne and juicy lyrics from a young Stephen Sondheim. "Gypsy" launched many now-classic hit songs, such as "Let Me Entertain You" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Live musicians enhance the cast vocals and make the Camelot show feel even bigger than it is.

The production is rich with energy and it strikes a fine balance between humor and pathos.

Kitschy, upbeat song and dance numbers are interspersed with scenes where children long for a normal life, sleep in cramped motel rooms and subsist on cheap Chinese food.

Every scene, from the goofy vaudevillian kiddie show that opens to Rose's emotional finale singing "Rose's Turn" reveals a new facet of her character. In this regard, the play itself is a slow strip tease, each scene showing the audience a bit more of the complicated Rose and her daughters.

While the play's focus is definitely on Genise's character, Rose, the entire cast is engaging. Genise is at once bull-headed, driven and sincerely hopeful. Her voice doesn't have the gritty depth usually associated with the Mama Rose character, but she acts and sings with a lovely combination of toughness and fragility.

Hannah Gassaway is subtle and sweet as Louise, Rose's less talented daughter, who moves on to stripper fame as Gypsy Rose Lee. Julia Holden-Hunkins is bubbly as Dainty June, the favorite daughter who escapes Rose's domineering grasp.

Don Matthews is warm and quiet as Herbie, the long-suffering showbiz agent who would do anything for Rose. The children in the cast are all talented, performing tightly choreographed numbers, including one cleverly staged scene as they transition from children to young adults.

Christina Dewar, Kelly Jean Hammond and Katie Elias are delightfully tawdry as seasoned strippers who teach Gypsy how to ply their trade in one of the funniest scenes in the show.

The simple set by Don Zastoupil, and Ellen Alphonso's costumes, are colorful and fun, reflecting the over-the-top gaudiness of the vaudeville era.

The play is more than 21/2 hours long, but it doesn't feel like it. The songs are catchy, the staging is fast-paced and the actors are clearly having fun.

One aspect of "Gypsy" that distinguishes it from many big musicals is that it doesn't have a Hollywood ending. The finale is powerful, but also sad as the two main characters, Rose and Louise, make a tentative peace while their lives inevitably move in different directions. There's no pretense that life's choices are easy, and fame comes at a deep cost to them both.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

Share This Story