Everything does seem to be “coming up roses” for Irving’s Lyric Stage these days, where mounting one fully orchestrated classic musical theatre production after another gives regional and national artists and audiences alike the chance to experience the shows in fully restored auditory splendor. The current offering, Gypsy, (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents) is no exception to Lyric’s “golden rule”. First mounted in 1959, Lyric’s production, under the inspired musical direction of Jay Dias, engages all original thirty-nine orchestra instruments in cooperation with the Jule Styne estate’s best intentions. From the moment the overture stirs the audience with robust intonation and sassy spotlighted trumpet solo, the sound fest carries the evening.
The show may be named for the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, and be based loosely on her 1957 autobiography, but Gypsy’s a secondary character; the musical focuses on her Mama Rose’s strife-filled life and vicariously expressed aspirations. When regional esteemed diva Julie Johnson stepped out of the demanding lead for a national touring opportunity, Jay Dias and director Len Pfluger “filled in” Mama Rose’s role with a rare treat for regional audiences. They engaged the international touring artist and national cabaret sensation Sue Mathys to play Mama Rose.
It was a natural fit; Mathys was no stranger to Jay Dias or Gypsy production’s director/ choreographer Len Pfluger. Mathys met Dias sixteen years ago when he was music director and supervisor of Trevor Nunn’s Sunset Boulevard in Germany, in which she sang Norma Desmond; he became her long-time music director. Len Pfluger made his Carnegie Hall debut directing her in Sue Mathys Sings Broadway and Piaf. With this top-flight core team and the orchestra in place, Lyric’s founding producer Steven Jones knew he had a sterling combination. Mathys’ powerful voice, warm and silky when needed to charm or wheedle and bursting with iron-willed grit when life lets Mama Rose down, drives the show with gut-wrenching desperation. Defiantly courageous even facing abandonment, Mama Rose finally takes full command in the show’s last number, “Rose’s Turn”. Mathys fills spacious Carpenter Hall’s bare stage with her dynamic persona and superlative instrument, displaying every iota of the vocal talent and star quality that has earned her the highest of accolades, and standing ovations, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lyricist Stephen Sondheim commented about Mama Rose: “The fact that she’s monstrous to her daughters and the world is secondary…. She’s a very American character, a gallant figure and a life force.” The New York Times, May 4, 2003
A professional cast of strong, attractive players fleshes out the show, secondary leads to youth dancers, with Sonny Franks lending a stalwart, sympathetic grace to the production as Mama Rose’s ever patient suitor and sole supporter Herbie.
Ashton Smalling, who played Baby June in the Ravinia Festival production starring Patti LuPone, and Mary McElree, Kim in Lyric’s recent Bye Bye Birdie, make a lovable pair of browbeaten but ever-plucky sisters as Dainty June and Gypsy Rose. Their wishful duet, “If Momma Was Married”, delivered with harmonious sincerity and simplicity, is a most satisfying number in Act One. The audience claps and hollers with glee at the Act Two outlandish comic “divertissements” of the trio of sleazy burlesque queens: Tessie Tura (played by Caitlin Carter), Electra (Shannon McGrann) and baleful trumpet-tooting Mazeppa (portrayed with glorious, undignified abandon by Sara Shelby-Martin).
Let them entertain you! Lyric Stage’s cast of fine performers supported by the spectacular orchestra will not disappoint. It’s a first class, classic production.
Gypsy runs through September 19, 2011. Performances are in the Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd. Tickets can be Ordered Online at www.lyricstage.org or by calling the box office: 972-252-2787. Remaining Performances are September 16 & 17 @ 8:00 PM and September 12 & 18 @ 2:30 PM.
About Sue Mathys: