Everything’s coming up roses at Virginia Rep right now, and some people (including us) think it’s all well-deserved. These are all Gypsy references! Now may we entertain you with a lively review?
Robyn O’Neill as Mama Rose and Christie Jackson as Gypsy. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
First premiering in 1959, Gypsy, a musical based on the memoirs of famous burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee, has been hailed by many as one of the best American musicals of all time. And it’s not hard to see why.
The themes of this show will never get old as we in the present day become increasingly familiar with the “stage mother,” a la Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashian clan, or the terrifying TLC reality show Toddlers and Tiaras. We’ve seen this type of character many times before, but Gypsy takes a different approach and deftly explores the other side–acknowledging that no one does show business alone when they’re young.
WHAT IT IS
Gypsy centers around the ultimate stage mom, Rose (played brilliantly by Robyn O’Neill) and her quest to make her young daughters stars, often against their will.
When her star performer and daughter, Baby June (played by Catherine Carol Walker) decides she no longer wants to be infantilized by her controlling mother, she elopes and runs off to become an actress. And a quite successful one at that. Even though the musical doesn’t follow June after she runs away, in reality June grew up to be famed actress, writer, and director June Havoc, who enjoyed a very long career in Hollywood.
After June’s departure, Rose is left with her “homely” daughter Louise (played by Christie Jackson) to replace June as the lead in Rose’s act. No matter how outdated or ridiculous it becomes over time, Rose constantly tries to make the act new and fresh–an act that was originally created for child performers, not grown men and women.
Much to the chagrin of Rose’s long time love Herbie, played by the very handsome and charismatic Chris Hietikko, Rose focuses all of her energy on ensuring that at least one of her daughters will be a huge success. At first this seems to be more Rose’s dream than her daughters’, and that’s often the case.
O’Neill is fantastic as pushy Rose. She possesses a gorgeous, clear, voice and commands the stage as the no-nonsense “momager.” Even though she basically walks all over and inevitably alienates everyone in her life, you still feel an amazing sense of sympathy for Rose. And this is very much due to O’Neill’s portrayal.
Jackson, by contrast, is beautiful and unassuming in her role. Even when her character has achieved the highest success, Jackson portrays Louise, or “Gypsy,” as humble and relatable. Her transition from mousey backup performer to burlesque superstar is expertly directed and executed on stage.
Standouts in this cast are certainly Debra Clinton (as Mazeppa), Susan Sanford (as Electra), and Nicole Oberleitner (as Tessie Tura) –the burlesque performers who introduce Louise to what will eventually become her passion. The girls advise Louise that she better have a “gimmick” to get noticed, as they, and their performances, are all very different from one another. Their numbers are hilarious and are highlights of this production.
This musical beautifully tells the story that may exist behind the star, no matter how ugly or lonely, showcasing the series of events that lead the famous to fame.
WHERE IT IS
Gypsy is currently running at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre on Broad Street. One of the most beautiful old theatres that exists in Richmond, it is always a treat to see a show there.
WHO’S BEHIND IT
The book for Gypsy was written by Arthur Laurents with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
This production is directed by Chase Kniffen, with the gorgeous and consistently dynamic set design of Brian Prather and costumes by Sue Griffin.
WHEN IT IS
Gypsy runs on weekends through the holiday season until January 10th, with night shows on Thursdays and matinees on Sundays.
HOW MUCH IT COSTS
Tickets run anywhere from $36 – $60. I recommend orchestra center for optimal viewing, but if that’s not in your budget, this theatre is designed to provide an enjoyable experience from any seat.
There are refreshments in the lobby for purchase; beer, wine, cocktails, light snacks, as well as coffee, tea, and soda.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
Uber if you can. I personally feel less frazzled and rushed without having to deal with the parking situation downtown and in Jackson Ward.
However, if you’re willing to shell out a few dollars, there is a valet at the theatre for your convenience and several designated parking areas. Check their site for more info.
There are also many charming restaurants and bars within walking distance if you’re early or if you choose to partake in an after-show libation.
IF YOU DON’T GO DO THIS, YOU WILL…
Be missing out on the chance to see a true and treasured piece of Americana.