Ian has previously worked with WATERDALE, and members of this cast, band, and production team as Musical Director (Parade, 2012) and cast member (The Witches of Eastwick, 2013).
When I was in the States earlier in the year I was introduced to Dance Moms for the first time – Miss Abby and her troupe of trussed-up pre-teens desperately scrabbling for just a sliver, even the tiniest glimpse of fame. But we don't watch if for the girls. The show's namesake is… them. The Dance Moms.
We all know them, and, yes, we all love feeling normal in comparison. They live vicariously through their daughters – grasping at any chance of fame for their child, for them. It's almost not surprising that Louise ends up as a striptease artist in Gypsy – her mother's been pimping her out her entire life.
Gypsy is a story of dreams – broken dreams and those living in the realm of dreams. WATERDALE's production opens with Rose's dream – the spotlight. The rest of the show was modestly staged in comparison with one of the sparser set designs I've seen from WATERDALE, although that's not to say that it didn't effectively frame what is an uncommonly wide stage.
Apart from a couple of strange cues that eventually made sense as the scene progressed, lighting was appropriate and effective, however the sustained use of strobe for June's transition to teen-hood can only be described as overkill. Special mentioned must be made of the giant shadow-Roses in the finale – Rose had finally made it 'big,' but only as a semblance of her true self.
Sound was some of the best I've heard from WATERDALE with generally great levels and minimal issues – congratulations to the team.
This production was co-directed by Nathan Slevin and Dom Hennequin. Their choices were appropriate for the most part, although lines were continually rushed by not only Rose, whose mouth is meant to run at a million miles an hour at times, but the entire cast. Arthur Laurent’s book for the musical isn’t perfect (“Hi, I sell candy – wanna get married?”), and I wasn’t convinced about some decisions – particularly the human train/bus thing that collected the young, male performers, however I liked the use of simple projections throughout. All that being said, I would have appreciated not being able to hear the production team talking from the back row through the entirety of Act I. Unfortunately you have to expect that from audiences these days, but it was disappointing to hear this from the production team themselves.
Rachel Edward’s second MD gig has shown some definite growth although the band struggled to stay together at times during Styne’s challenging and highly-syncopated score. They’d found themselves by the end of the show, playing a much more confident “Rose’s Turn.” Although a couple of segues were a little slow, I commend Edwards on her vocal coaching of the entire cast, which ranged widely from shrill Baby June to Rose’s multiple feature numbers, and finally to Herbie’s rich, gentle baritone. Special mentions to the piccolo during the overture and the clarinet solos throughout, and also to Karina Thompon as Baby June who managed to achieve some crazy cross between Columbia and Shirley Temple – congratulations.
While choreography by Madeleine Psaila felt period-appropriate it also came off a little underdone. This is vaudeville and I wanted bigger, I wanted more. Michael Uccellini (Tulsa) must be mentioned for his relaxed and well-controlled tap routine, and I look forward to seeing Psaila’s work grow and develop with more experience.
Ashleigh Psaila (June) was appropriately obedient throughout her numbers, with some great moments of melodrama and contempt during the “Farm Sequence/Broadway” number. June sees the reality of their situation and knows that her mother is more hindrance than help, and realizes that there’s only one way to live her own dream, and that is to escape. Morgan Lobé (Herbie) seemed slightly out of his vocal range for the role, although he handled the situation well, producing a consistent accent with a warm and well-supported sound. A self-declared mouse, Lobé’s Herbie didn’t really grab me for a majority of the production – I was always wanting more. And more I got during his final scene with a fantastic lift in intensity and self-esteem that made everything that came before it make sense. Well done, Morgan.
I became interested in Demi Mangione’s (Louise) voice during “Little Lamb,” although the character was appropriately overshadowed throughout most of the evening. Her transformation to Gypsy Rose Lee in Act II was excellent – what a voice she’d been hiding and true star power to boot.
Rose is a powerhouse role and one you certainly don’t expect to see pulled off by a 19-year-old. Verity Brown had the look and she had the voice, channeling moments of Lupone and Peters at points throughout the show. Although a slightly slow start to “Some People,” Brown had warmed up by the end of the number and it was clear that she was back in the groove after the mid-season break. Brown’s Rose felt appropriately underplayed. While there wasn’t always the level of excitement and starry eyes you expect from a mother seeing her daughters’ (read her own) dreams come true, this only increased the poignancy of the piece, demonstrating Rose’s firm belief in her own spin and aspirations. Two highlights were the act closers, “Everything’s Coming Up Rose[’]s” and “Rose’s Turn,” but, although extremely well executed, I was feeling more fear than excitement from Brown for some reason. Rose never lets go of an opportunity and sees potential in everything, and I would have liked to see more of than tenacity from Brown’s characterisation to put the finishing touch on an otherwise impressive performance.
I appreciated the directors’ choice to use one of the alternate endings for this production. Rose never found her spotlight and lost everything in the process. In the end, all she had left was her dream.