Presented by the Village Playhouse & the Company Company
Oct. 28 Nov. 4, 3 p.m.
Nov. 2, 3, 9, 10, 8 p.m.
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
Gypsy has everything going for it. With famous songs like “Let Me Entertain You” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” combined with a role that defined the careers of women such as Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury, this is the grand dame of the stage.
It’s a daunting undertaking for any production company. Given the small size of the Playhouse, it is a wonder they chose to tackle such an ambitious project. Combining talents with The Company Company, a teaming that produced last season’s popular rendition of Urinetown, the Village Repertory Company brings this classic to life in an intimate setting. All that might be wished for is a larger venue to accommodate a full orchestra, but given the boundaries of staging and space, this is a very good production.
Gypsy is loosely based on the memoirs of the famous burlesque stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. It has always been a vehicle for the mother, Rose, whose powerful presence, domineering ways and refusal to accept her children’s flaws constitute the very definition of a Stage Mother.
Played by veteran Playhouse actor Kathy Summer, this is a memorable Rose, but unfortunately not a show stopping one. Her singing is more powerful in lower ranges and sounds wonderful when she is belting out the lead’s powerful numbers, but some songs suffer when they shift into higher registers. She gives a fine acting performance that’s especially believable as she refuses to see her dreams fall apart. The overbearing Summer appropriately dwarfs William Schlitt, who in the role of her longtime boyfriend and daughters’ agent, Herbie, suffers until he finds his backbone and walks out.
The best performances of the evening occur as Emily Wilhoit takes over the role of the older daughter, Louise, destined to become a famous stripper. Wilhoit’s transformation from young woman to mature burlesque entertainer is incredible to watch. Her duet with Johanna Schlitt, in the role of June, as they lament their mother’s lack of a husband, is both entertaining and easy on the ears. June departs shortly thereafter leaving Louise alone to deal with their mother. Wilhoit using her face and body language depicts her longing to escape from beneath the shadow of her more beloved sister and her realization of her mother’s true nature. A relative newcomer to the region, here’s hoping she graces area stages more often.
The fascinating thing is how the players handle the set. This is a black box space, transformed for the needs of each production, with no wings or fly space and thus every square foot is vital. The designers have outdone themselves, producing a set that with quick turns and whirls transforms into 16 scenes that work flawlessly. It’s easy to overlook the unused portions of the stage that remain visible. Larger venues in town could learn from the Playhouses’ efficient and effective use of space. Given the cast size, this musical is a quick-change nightmare. Again, the design team comes through, this time via the very talented work of costume designer Julie Ziff. Rather than take an easy route of using bland garb, she manages to make the cast look appropriate to their time and place. In the end, the talents of the design team win out over those of the actors, but only by a small margin. There is a lot of entertainment in this performance. Director Maida Libkin should be proud of what she has accomplished.