Regional Theater Review: GYPSY (ion theater company)

Post image for Regional Theater Review: GYPSY (ion theater company)

by Milo Shapiro on October 31, 2011

in Theater-Regional

MOSTLY EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES FOR ION PRODUCTION

For most theater lovers, Gypsy equals Ethel Merman as Mama Rose, even if you never saw her do it.  After a single time hearing Merman’s larger-than-life rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else belting out that role.  So when one hears that ion theater company is not only producing Gypsy, but is doing so in the tiny, 49-seat BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater, half of the intrigue is just to see if they can pull it off in a space that is approximately 120 square feet, let alone finding a powerful Rose.  Thanks to Linda Libby’s passionate embodiment of the role (in conjunction with sharp choices by directors Claudio Raygoza and Kim Strassburger), the answer is yes, they can.

ion theater company presents Gypsy at the BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroTo start, if you haven’t seen what owners Raygoza and producer Glenn Paris have done with this space since its previous incarnation under Dale Morris, this itself is a worth a rave.  The theatre is now completely redesigned as a triangular thrust stage with three rows of seating along the two shorter sides.  Although this gives the actors who are upstage more room than before, the directors use the downstage playing area frequently and to good effect: thus, in the iconic number, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” strippers come down “front and center” because there’s only a center in the front.

The addition of a Les Miserables-style turntable was a delightful surprise in such a small space, allowing preparations for the next scene behind a curtain.  When the curtain does fully open, the triangle becomes a ion theater company presents Gypsy at the BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater – Regional Theater Review by Milo Shapirodiamond, adding even more space.  A side door that is used to great effect, creating more than one room in any given scene, will have you forgetting just how small this space is.

The famous true-story-turned-musical relates how the famous 1930’s Burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee came to glory, due to – or should one say, in spite of – Rose, the pushiest stage mother ever.  While the title is Gypsy (the stage name of Rose’s daughter Louise), make no mistake that this is Rose’s show.

ion theater company presents Gypsy at the BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroPatti LuPone, Tony-winner in the recent Broadway revival, said of Rose: “She has tunnel vision, she’s driven, and she loves her kids…she may do monstrous things, but that does not make her a monster.”  Libby allows us to see this in her multifaceted portrayal: her Rose is more accessible than the tough lady seen in other productions.  While we still bristle at her self-centered and pig-headedness (the patron next to me visibly shuddered during the monologue leading up to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”), Libby’s occasional softening of Rose’s bravado imbues a refreshing sweetness with the trademark brassiness.  At first, her voice was not very powerful, causing an initial concern that her singing might fall short.  But this may have been a character choice, for later in the show (especially in the classic eleven o’clock number “Rose’s Turn”), there was absolutely no question that Libby could make this score by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne her own.

ion theater company presents Gypsy at the BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroIn fact, several performers seemed to hold back ever-so-slightly, perhaps to compensate for a three-row audience. This reviewer nearly yelled, “Sing out, Louise! The audience can handle it!”  (However, Louise’s tenderly moving “Little Lamb,” sung by Katie Whalley, is performed with timid perfection.) The excellent pianist Wendy Thompson brings us enough strength such that we don’t miss a fuller orchestra all that much (although “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” screams for more brass).

Helena Marie Woods serves double-duty as June, the older sister to Louise: because the cast is trimmed down, she must play both nine-year old “Baby” June and the older “Dainty” June. A bit of a stretch, but Woods handles both the child star of the overly-cutesy Vaudeville routines and the frustrated teenager well, thoroughly engaging us with her entertaining schtick.

ion theater company presents Gypsy at the BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroIn community theatre, there are bound to be actors who are merely serviceable while others stand out. This is true of ion’s Gypsy, but it makes the experience no less enjoyable. This production should please those who have seen the show repeatedly as well as those being introduced to what numerous critics have called the greatest American musical.

photos by John R. McCutchen

Gypsy
ion theater company at BLKBOX@6th&Penn Theater in San Diego
scheduled to end on November 27
for tickets, visit http://iontheatre.com

Leave a Comment