Gypsy, a great musical from 1959, has a score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a script by Arthur Laurents. It’s the true story of burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (she preferred the label “ecdysiast”), who grew up as a tomboy in the 1920s, overshadowed by her pretty sister June and constantly badgered by their domineering mother, Rose. In truth, the show is Rose’s story: Her ambition for success in show business knew no boundaries, even as she ruined relationships with her daughters and a man who loved her.
The role, created for powerful stage legend Ethel Merman, is not easy: Covedale Center’s production, co-directed by Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen, features Sherry McCamley as the tyrannical stage mother. She certainly has the vocal chops to play Rose, and that’s a good thing because she carries much of the show’s freight, from her get-outta-my way opening number “Some People” to the near maniacal “Rose’s Turn” at the finale when she expresses her dismay because she was “born too soon and started too late.”
McCamley works hard from start to finish, but she doesn’t have quite enough brass to justify the reactions of those around her. It’s hard to understand why her Rose wouldn’t marry nice-guy Herbie (John Langley) despite his repeated proposals. Sure, she’s single-minded and unimaginative (the vaudeville numbers she dreams up are laughingly repetitive, the same music with a few new costumes), but her cold advancement of her girls to satisfy her own ego never quite takes off.
Rose’s daughters are played by Taylor Alexander (June) and Brianna Barnes (Louise), both CCM musical theater majors who do fine jobs with roles that begin with two younger performers Allison Edwards and Catherine Voorhees. Barnes especially conveys Louise’s evolution from awkward adolescent to confident stage performer with aplomb; her longing for Tulsa (Nick Pelaccio, another CCM product who’s a great dancer) in “All I Need Is the Girl” is palpable — and heartbreaking when he runs away with June. The three strippers who counsel Louise on her imminent career in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” played with zest by Marvel Gentry Davis, Jules Shumate and Julie Pergrem, offer a hilarious interlude.
Gypsy is always worth seeing, but this production needed a tad more nasty.
GYPSY, presented by Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through May 4.