Marblehead Little Theatre’s Production of GYPSY: A MUSICAL FABLE Runs from June 24th-July 3rd, 2022. This is the first musical MLT Live has been able to produce in 3 years.
By Easton Mills
GYPSY*: A MUSICAL FABLE is often touted as Sondheim’s best musical and theatre lovers across the world continue to sing its praises. I’ve always wanted to enjoy this show, but I don’t, which means I should probably end my review here (read on at your own risk).
Marblehead Little Theatre’s production of GYPSY is sure to fill seats – and because it is the first musical they’ve been able to produce in three years, I genuinely hope it will.
Fortunately, Sondheim’s “best musical” is so well loved despite its despicable characters that even if the set caught on fire people would buy tickets and love every moment. In fact, the show I attended this past weekend was filled with people having a great time, many of whom made comments during intermission about how they were able to empathize with both Rose and Louise in ways that often didn’t occur in community theatre productions of this show.
There’s a train wreck charm to GYPSY where audiences can’t help rooting for the motley crew of characters to get somewhere, do something, be something – even if you don’t agree with any of their methods or motives. If you love musical theatre, if you love Sondheim, if you’ve been unable to see a live performance of a popular musical since before the start of the Pandemic, this is a show you should get to. Objective criticism aside, support your local theatres because we need them.
With lyrics by Sondheim and music by Jule Styne, GYPSY tells the tale of an ambitious stage mother fighting for her daughters’ success so that she may live vicariously through them. Set all across America in the 1920s and 30s, when vaudeville was dying and burlesque was born, GYPSY is classic Americana showing off a slice of the Depression often overshadowed by dust and survival.
MLT’s production of GYPSY hits all the important notes. Becky Ruccio’s Rose is scheming and demanding and desperate in an effectively cringey way. All of her motivations build to her strongest moment in “Rose’s Turn,” the audience transforming into a confessional booth as Rose admits that her machinations for her daughter’s successes had been selfish all along. Murphy’s Herbie is sufficiently capitulating. Rilyn Gardner as Louise, although somewhat clunky in her initial transition from ingénue to star material, shines through with such striking vocals that believability doesn’t even matter. She’s charming and fun to watch, even in throwaway moments such as “Little Lamb,” a song which original Broadway director Jerome Robbins wanted cut from the show entirely.
Although, admittedly, the chilling way in which Gardner delivers the line “I thought you did it for me,” will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Other breakthrough moments were Doyle’s (June) and Gardner’s duet “If Momma Was Married,” and Meaghan Holtz’s (Mazeppa) trumpet nonsense in “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.”
Marblehead Little Theatre always impresses with their set design and lighting and the use of the space for GYPSY was particularly good. There are a couple of set tricks that had me leaning forward in delight to more closely witness choices that felt fresh and intriguing – particularly in the transition between young cast and old cast in the middle of Act 1.
Steve Black’s decision to keep it “trunk minimal” was a clever choice as well, and the design team executed it well. The costuming, the work of Elvira Schoenthal, was equally exciting and helped with the immersion of the experience.
Unfortunately, for a show so centered on music, the band with its dueling pianos left much to be desired. They were slightly off sync with the vocal performers and with each other. However, the vocal performances are more than enough to account for the misstep, so I would just encourage you to sit stage right (audience left, opposite the musicians) if you are able.
It’s also important to note that due to budget constraints, the production only had a few weeks to put together this show for our entertainment. I firmly believe that some of the kinks will be worked out by the second weekend.
Because my peers and colleagues love this show so dearly, I have given it my best go. I have often hoped that the stirring vocals, clever lyrics, and elaborate set design will pull me out of my judgment of Rose’s character and into the arc of the story. I’m sorry to report that even after this production my frustration is uncured. It’s time for me to hang my hat on these attempts, and leave the appreciation of this show to those who can.
So ignore me, go see the show, and let Marblehead Little Theatre do what they love to do: entertain you. You can get your tickets here.
* Props to the director for making this acknowledgement in the program concerning the racial slur that shares the name of this performance: “We would like to acknowledge the use of the word ‘Gypsy.’ The word’s origins include reference to a member of a people originating from South Asia who have traditionally practiced an itinerant way of life. While we are presenting this work as a historical piece of American Musical Theater, we recognize and acknowledge that this is a dated term that negatively reflects the Romani people.”
Easton Mills is a contemporary theatre critic fascinated by language, rhetoric, and weird puns nobody else notices. He is a dog dad to Marshall and an aspiring birder. Follow him on Twitter @EastonMWrites
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