For their final show of 2015, Beenleigh Theatre Group has chosen to stage Gypsy. The show is well produced, engagingly performed, and a highly enjoyable night at the theatre.
Based on the “Gypsy: a memoir” penned by Gypsy Rose Lee, the show follows the story infamous stage mother Rose Hovick and her desperation to make her daughters stars on the Vaudeville circuit. Director Steven Pimm has successfully led his creative team to produce a well-rounded portrayal of the work. He has clearly work closely with his set designer, Michael Baldwin, in order to highlight how Rose holds the theatre in such high esteem, in contrast to the humdrum of real life. Baldwin’s design utilised minimal pieces for the off-stage world (Rose’s father’s home is represented through a dining setting, a staircase, and a door frame, for example), and larger than life set pieces for the ‘staged’ scenes, like Uncle Jocko’s Kiddie Show, ‘Gypsy’s Strip Routine’, and News Boys/Farm Boys sequences. (oh, and hats off to Baldwin for the reveal to transition from the ‘Farm Sequence’ to ‘Broadway’). A lovely device to delineate between the real world and the world of the theatre was a central T-shaped catwalk with an art deco inspired half-moon plate leading from stage to catwalk.
Pimm’s staging has good flow, and the dynamics within the relationships of the characters were been well established. Staging in one particular scene which was a little off balance was Rose’s recruitment of the young Farm Yard Boys. The script calls for a tap dancing urchin and Boy Scouts who can sing strong high notes to be rounded up by Rose. Certainly in the script, her tactics are far from sound as she poaches the talented lads from the street, but Pimm has Rose collecting random boys who were simply bystanders in the street, and saying the likes of “You’re coming with us”; it felt like more of an abduction than a recruitment. At the end of this scene and the reprise of “Some People”, Rose and the kids stepped out on to the catwalk, without an indication of being in a theatre – it was something of a blurring of the lines of the two worlds.
Baldwin’s set was well lit and the lighting, designed by Chloe Dunn, did well in setting the tone of each scene. When actors stood right down stage, there was a dead patch where they were not fully lit, an issue which could have simply been redressed by blocking the actors one step upstage or refocusing the lights. One light that was incredibly distracting was the sconce on the music stand of the keyboard. In dimly lit scenes and in scene changes, the light was so bright that I felt the need shield my eyes with my programme. This matter could be easily addressed through the use of a blue gel over the light, or to switch out the bulb for one similar to that being used on the violin player’s stand.
Musical director Christine Leah capably led the very tight, balanced band from the keyboard. In “Rose’s Turn”, it would have been great to have been able to hear more prominently the dissonant chords from the brass, an effect which adds so beautifully to Rose’s mental state. Sound designer and operator Karen Gardyne is to be commended for enabling the audience to hear every word said and every note that was sung, with the odd exception when a radio mic cut out.
Gypsy is a show that calls for little choreography, but when it is required, the moves need to be slick and simple – Bec Swain has achieved just that. Swain’s choreography is right on the money for the Baby/Dainty June numbers, including the familiar curtain call of jumps and kicks for June. While there were some spacing problems for the News Boys (possibly, the junior performers letting nerves get the better of them and concentration take a side seat), the adult ensemble executed Swain’s moves very well.
Marg Oliver and Debbie Taylor took duel responsibility of coordinating costumes for the show. Leongatha Lyric Theatre (VIC) is also credited in the programme for having assisted with costumes and props. Oliver and Taylor did very well in creating a credible period look for the show, from the kiddie performers outfits, to the Toreadorables’ dresses, to the trio of burlesque ladies’ get ups. When a striptease is a key moment of a production, those specific costumes become important: Gypsy Rose Lee’s gowns for stripping were sexy, and easily utilised by the actress (Louella Baldwin). It was, however, curious to note that Rose Hovick’s costuming made the character seem younger as the timeline of the piece progressed, rather than ageing her. On the day of her wedding to Herbie, Rose (played by Della Kidd) was in a little black dress with sleeves, a look which was quite youthful for the character. At that point in the story, Rose and Herbie have less money than ever before – it would have made more sense to have Rose in her ‘Sunday best’ frock, perhaps one she’d been seen in previously, and still use the corsage to mark the special occasion.
The stage crew, under the guidance of stage manager Kirsty Clarke, did an excellent job to change scenes quickly and methodically. The era in which the show was written dictates that blackouts are to be expected, and thanks to the efficiency of the crew, the blackouts were as short as possible, and the changes occurred with minimal stage noise. One point of concern – in Tulsa’s big dance number, “All I Need Is The Girl”, a staircase forms a part of the stage door set, and is used at a key moment in Tulsa’s dance routine. It was troubling to see that the staircase had only a wedge under one of the wheels and did not use a braking system on all four wheels. As Tulsa (Jordan Ross) ascended and descended the set piece, the staircase moved so markedly that I had genuine concern for his safety. I do hope that the travelling staircase was merely a one off, and that the braking system has been addressed for future performances.
It cannot be denied that the success of Gypsy rests more than squarely on the shoulders of the actress playing Mama Rose. Della Kidd was more than up to the task. She has created a character that is the picture of an overbearing mother, a self-serving woman, and a deluded manager. Her command of Rose’s dialogue was apparent, and in her moments of heartbreak (when June, and then Herbie, leave her, for example), Kidd was a picture of all encompassing bewilderment. Her vocal control of the role was fine and sure, although at times, some of the lower notes seemed to be out of her range as they were inaudible. The role Mama Rose is a tour de force, and Kidd should be extremely proud of her performance.
As Rose’s love interest Herbie, Ian Maurice was very likeable and charming. His vocals were pleasing to listen to, and delivered with ease. When the ‘ever-easy-to-get-along-with’ Herbie blows up at Rose, Maurice was committed in the moment, and left the audience feeling like they’d been punched in the stomach…so very well done. The chemistry between Kidd and Maurice took a while to develop, as in their first meeting the relationship felt more like father-daughter, rather than potential suitor and interested partner.
The performance of the night belonged to Louella Baldwin as Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee. From the moment she took over from Baby Louise all the way through to her making amends with her mother, Baldwin gave a very natural performance. It was truly as though she were saying Louise’s lines for the very first time, and that they were coming to her in each moment. Her character arc from submissive daughter to accomplished Burleqsue artiste was wonderful to watch – Baldwin has clearly given Louise a lot of time, energy and thought. With strong vocals, genuine delivery of dialogue, and graceful movement, Baldwin is someone I look forward to seeing on stage in the future.
Pimm was indeed fortunate to be able to cast sisters Ella and Indigo Macrokanis in the roles of Dainty June and Baby June, respectively. Both girls sang and danced well, and gave June the appropriate air headed personality. One thing that took away from Indigo Macronkanis’ performance was that the fringe on her blonde wig was too long. This meant that the wig stole focus from her delightful characterisation. Ella Macrokanis’ performance of “If Momma Was Married” with Louella Baldwin was one of the highlights of the show, with the two girls sharing a gorgeous rapport. Dainty June’s Farm Boys gave spirited performances, and were responsible for some key comedic moments in Act One. As Tulsa, Jordan Ross was perfectly cast vocally, but the dancing in his solo felt a little unsure, at times.
The strength of other supporting players was somewhat uneven. Uncle Jocko (played by Steven Days) was larger than life and clearly showed that he had better places to be, but Days’ vocal timbre needs to be more modulated to ensure that the audience catch every word that he says. Ian Moore’s Weber was suitably headstrong, and he had a great stage presence. As Miss Cratchitt Tiffany Harvey had some amusing moments, but her performance would benefit from being a little more natural – the character does not know that what she says is funny, and in light of that, Cratchitt should be played as a straight role, so that the audience can discern her comedy for themselves. Anthony Paull gave us a Pop who clearly knew Rose’s every calculated move.
The trio of Wichita strippers (Mazeppa – Racheal Leigh, Tessie Tura – Julia Lefik, and Electra -Shelley Days) was a definite crowd favourite. Their rendition of “You Gotta get A Gimmick” was deliciously competitive, and wonderfully funny. Hats off to Leigh for actually playing Mazeppa’s trumpet – a joyous moment for all.
Long has it been said that no one in theatre should ever work with children or animals, but this production of Gypsy has both. Uncle Jocko’s band of kiddie performers was wonderfully cast to form a group that was ever so twee. This same group became the decidedly less kitsch bunch of children in the neighbourhood – ery well done, junior cast. While it is quite common for a live dog to be on stage as Chowsie, Mama Rose’s beloved dog, it is far less common to see a real live lamb on stage – more often than not, Louise sings “Little Lamb” to a soft toy. It was a lovely touch to have a live lamb, even if it did somewhat upstage Baldwin’s singing with its cuteness.
Beenleigh Theatre Group’s Gypsy is a great credit to the company. The show runs through until Saturday November 28th. Tickets can be purchased at http://beenleightheatregroup.com/booking/