FRANKLIN, NJ—Sometimes things work out in one’s favor, like getting an email from a theater announcing a production after its season had concluded.
Assuming this was one of Villagers main-stage production, this reviewer and his wife found themselves at the Sunday matinee, pleasantly surprised to find not a main-stage production but rather one mounted by Teensvill, Villagers in-house youth company.
With music by Jule Styne, lyric by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurentz, the embellished biography of Burlesques diva Gypsy Rose Lee is considered by many critics to be America’s best musical.
“Gypsy” certainly has endured and several major Broadway granddames, including Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, all of whom have all lent their talent to the role of Mamma Rose, the poster woman for ruthless stage mothers.
Not to mention the two film versions, one with Rosalind Russell and the other featured Bette Midler.
Set during the waning years of vaudeville, Rose Hovic, a driven, at times diluted woman doggedly pursues stardom for her younger daughter with little regard for anything else, including her other child, her lover, her father or any of the poor souls in her orbit.
Rose is wonderfully played by Sandy Buz.
Only college age herself, Buz had no trouble convincing me she was a strident middle-aged stage mother. She did this with an impressive voice and a solid presence that lasted through the closing number.
Rose’s lover and foil Herbie, the voice of reason in this dysfunctional family was well played by Princeton sophomore Zachary Levine whose timing and singing hit the mark as he created a likeable Herbie, a role that could easily become lost in the shadows of some of the more colorful chracters.
Levine made sure that didn’t happen.
In the role of Baby June, the one character in this beaten down entourage who sees Momma Rose for who she is, and takes action against her, is Caileigh Idell.
Idell knew when to camp it up and when the role required seriousness, and delivered both while doing splits on the stage!
Janine Silano rounded out the main characters as the plain and somewhat petulant Louise, who also is the focal point and point of view of the story.
Silano took this character from an awkward unassuming teen to a sophisticated stage entertainer, a very impressive character arc.
The rest of the cast was made up of kids and teenagers who pulled things off nicely, while everyone in the audience had long forgotten they were watching a youth theater company.
Nothing in theater is perfect, but this was an impressive performance with very few flaws. Gypsy runs until August 10.