As great a musical as it is, you'd think Gypsy would get produced more often at the local level. With its classic score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, plus its somewhat dark but compelling "ode to showbiz" book by Arthur Laurents, Gypsy is an entertainment "gimme" — assuming you can find the right lady to play the lead.
Fortunately, the new Keeton Theatre production is driven by the strong performance of Ginger Newman as Mama Rose, singing brassy signature tunes such as "Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and the daring psychological epic "Rose's Turn." As if that isn't enough, Newman also serves as the show's musical director, turning over the work of conducting the small accompanying combo to keyboardist John Todd.
The modest-sized band's sound is a tad thin, and in general the production is lacking in the polish department. Clearly, those are budget issues. But under the direction of Jamie London, a capable and hardworking cast brings the story and the music to life.
Christina Candilora plays the key role of Louise, who courageously endures the lousy life stage-mother Rose hands her, then suddenly finds success in burlesque. Little is asked of her vocally, though she does well enough in the catchy duet "If Momma Was Married" (sung with the precociously talented Stella London). Candilora is much better handling the dramatic needs of the role, and her feisty heroism stacks up impressively against her mother's desperately perverse drive to turn her daughters into stage stars on the dying vaudeville circuit. (Gypsy is based on the 1957 memoirs of the famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee.)
Other worthy performances are turned in by young Virginia Richardson as Baby June, Terry McLemore as devoted agent Herbie, plus Jane Schnelle, Emily Ann Cowart and Monykah Tyson as the lovable strippers whose rendition of "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" is high-rent funny in a low-rent kind of way. Also on board is Cade Smith as the hoofer Tulsa, who offers a competent take on "All I Need Is the Girl," a decent throwaway tune about the joy of dancing. Among the remainder of the cast of 22, Melissa Husebo makes a notable contribution in various non-singing roles.
In the end, though, this is Mama's show, and there are few theater talents in Music City better suited than Newman to pull it off, which she does with dramatic flair, a mature moxie and the highest vocal confidence. Curtain up!