As if she hadn't already proven so in the previous three hours of Friday's Countryside Community Theatre performance, Christina Myatt left no doubt that she's worthy of the larger-than-life role of Mama Rose with Gypsy's final song, "Rose's Turn."
As Rose realized the error of her show-business-mother-ly ways, Myatt attacked the number with such force, such gusto, that she commanded the audience's attention, and managed to bring new meaning to each repeated "for me," singing the lyric with regret, longing, or anguish, or screaming it with a sad anger. Her Rose is a powerhouse of a woman, as called for in the script, but with depth. She's not just a loud mother, but a woman driven by her own regrets, pushing her daughters away as a way of escaping a life in which everyone seems to walk out on her.
Gypsy director and scenic designer David Turley makes an interesting choice with his sets - one that I quite like - by contrasting Rose's big, boisterous, colorful personality with minimal stage pieces. With the exception of the vaudeville-act scenes for Baby June (and later Baby Louise), there are no backdrops, just a table and chairs, free-standing doors, and/or other props viewed against a large black wall at the back of the stage. (The design fits, given that we're watching the behind-the-scenes life of a stage family.) Turley also adds some nice touches, from posters noting the locations of scenes (since there are so many locations) to a trick borrowed from many previous productions: the use of a strobe light while the child actors dance in and out of sight, and are slowly replaced by their older counterparts, to portray the passage of time.
Different from previous productions is the unpolished nature of Turley's take on this "musical fable," with its music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. Typically, the "Baby June & Her Newsboys/Farmboys" act is well-choreographed, well-danced, and well-sung, which adds a sadness to Gypsy's portrait of the demise of vaudeville, since the young actors are a talented bunch worthy of an audience, but with no place to show it. With Countryside's cast, the act is much more amateur and, because of that, much more earnest and desperate; with Baby June and company trying to make it in a dying genre while not being quite good enough for the genre, the tone of the entire piece becomes more sympathetic. This Rose is so determined to be a star - vicariously, through one of her daughters - that she can't see that her girls aren't quite star material ... that is, until Rose pushes Kelsey Nagel's Louise into the business of burlesque. Nagel, who up to that point in Friday's production was not only timid in her portrayal, but seemed so in her stage presence, suddenly shined with sass once her character's confidence had grown, and her classy-stripper costumes were my favorites of all of designer Stacy Phipps' colorful, era-appropriate efforts.
As an actress, Phipps also makes some delightful comic choices as Dainty June, especially when performing in the vaudeville show within the play, at one point contrasting her sweet, squeaky voice with a hilariously delivered guttural yell. Tracy Pelzer-Timm impressively shades her Tessie Turra with condescension and indifference while remaining friendly to Louise, while Cindy Ramos-Parmley offers an amusingly uppity Miss Cratchitt and a confidently demure Miss Electra. Mark Ruebling's goofy, amiable Herbie, expressing sincerity in his character's patience with Rose, is easy to like, although a little too severe with some of his angrier lines. And Sara Speight (née King) bumps it with Mazeppa's trumpet, delivering her usual brand of dark-toned humor - with a touch of apathy - that I enjoy so much in her performances (most notably as Van's Sister in last year's Harrison Hilltop Theatre production of Dog Sees God).
There are a few missteps, among them some in the choreography. While choreographer Kelly Lohrenz's work is lively and appropriate through most of the show, she misses her main chance to shine with Tulsa's "All I Need is the Girl" scene. As Tulsa, Tristan Tapscott dances a few fairly impressive steps across the stage, but then walks back to dance across again; this is a piece Tulsa has worked on for months, and yet here, it's unpolished and incomplete. There's also the issue of Gypsy's microphones failing for a split second, repeatedly, throughout the show, not to mention the main characters being over-amplified (compared to the actors who had to deliver lines without the aid of an electronic device). Overall, however, Countryside's production is quite enjoyable, a respectful handling of what is my favorite musical-theatre classic.
For tickets and information, call (563)285-6228 or visit CCTOnStage.org.