Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on Gypsy Rose Lee's 1957 autobiography "Gypsy: A Memoir," the musical focuses on the relationship between Gypsy, who was known as Louise when she was younger, her sister June, and their mother Rose, as well as Herbie, the man who served as their agent. The plot follows them over an almost 20-year period from when the young Louise and June were tykes performing in vaudeville to Gypsy's rise to the top of Burlesque as one of the highest paid strippers in the world. While the story follows Gypsy Rose Lee's journey, the main focus of the musical is Rose, a desperate and determined yet somewhat delusional woman who does whatever she has to do to make her children stars, but deep down inside she hungers for the limelight herself.
Just two years after West Side Story practically reinvented the musical, three of that show's creators, bookwriter Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, joined forces with composer Jule Styne to create Gypsy. Laurents smartly chose to turn Gypsy Rose Lee's memoir into a tale that, while centering on her rise to the top of the burlesque world, focuses more on her mother, a woman who clearly loved her children yet also pushed them into the spotlight as a way to have the light also shine on herself. Styne and Sondheim's score is considered one of the best, with Styne's music perfectly evoking the showbiz world the story is set against and Sondheim's lyrics infused with wit and emotion.
Grossman continues to impress in his ability to cast just the right actors for each role in his productions and he has found a quartet of very talented teens for the leads in this show, three of whom are making their Spotlight debut. As Rose, Jazmin Moehring skillfully allows us to see the many layers of this incredibly nuanced woman. On one hand, through her natural performance, we may admire the love Rose has for her daughters and Herbie, the man she cautiously lets into her life, but we also cringe at the desperate measures she goes to and the outlandish things she does to make her girls famous. Moehring expertly portrays the many facets of Rose, including the fear, desperation, anger and despair that ultimately turn this broken-down woman into a truly terrifying force. She also achieves beautifully delivered moments of heartbreak where the audience can understand and care for the character even after seeing the pain and horror she's created. I can't say I've felt that way from every other actress I've seen play this role, many of whom have decades more of acting and life experience than the teenage Moehring. She also brings moments of humor to Rose's several funny lines, as well as a rich and beautiful singing voice. Moehring is simply excellent as this bulldozing woman who won't let anything, or anyone, get in her way.
Ryenne Morgan is quite adept at portraying Louise's transition from the young tomboy Louise, who is quiet, shy, unsure and mousy with constantly downcast eyes, to the smart woman who knows how to use her assets to her advantage. Anand Khalsa instills Herbie with warmth and care for Rose and her daughters. While Rose continues to manipulate him, Khalsa's Herbie holds his own against her, which shows us that Herbie is strong and not a mouse, adding dimension to the role and providing hope that Herbie's dreams to finally marry Rose will come true. Khalsa also gets a few chances to show off his rich singing voice.
With a perfect undertone of sarcasm in her gestures and line delivery, Sophie Jurkovich is spot-on as June, the young woman who comes to hate what her mother has forced her into and realizes she needs to make a life for herself away from Rose. Morgan and Jurkovich's duet, "If Momma was Married," is a highlight, with several nicely delivered comic and dramatic touches that work with Sondheim's succinct lyrics to perfectly depict exactly what each of these young women is feeling.
Dominic Cardenas gets to show off his warm singing voice and dance skills as Tulsa, one of the boys Rose hires for their traveling act. Terese Sanchez, Learl Clah and Allison Watson are perfect as the trio of strippers who sing the crowd-pleasing comic gem "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Sanchez is excellent as both the older stripper Tessie Tura, who has seen it all and takes Louise under her wing, and the no-nonsense secretary Miss Cratchitt.
Grossman's direction includes many perfect original touches and a few moments of foreshadowing that add dimension to the main characters. Cydney Trent's choreography, Samantha Utpadel's costumes, and Trey DeGroodt's hair and make-up designs perfectly tie into the period of the show. Bobby Sample's set design, which uses just a few small elements, and his smart projections and media design simply but effectively create the many locations in the show. The lighting and sound from Josh Hontz work well to ensure the scenes are all smartly lit and the vocals are always clear. Ken Goodenberger's music direction delivers warm vocals from the entire cast.
At its core, Gypsy is a cautionary tale of the desperate desire and drive for fame. Spotlight's wonderful production of Gypsy shows not only the power of this exceptional musical but the strength in youth theatre and youth talent in the Phoenix area.
Gypsy, through September 15, 2019, with at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. Tickets and information can be found at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or by calling 602-843-8318.
Director: Kenny Grossman