Curtain Rises: Munopco takes a second look at ‘Gypsy’
“Gypsy,” Feb. 29 through March 8 in Munopco Music Theatre’s production at Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown, has been called the perfect musical. Many critics consider it to be the best American musical ever created.
“Gypsy” has music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, based on the autobiographical book by Gypsy Rose Lee.
“It’s absolutely my favorite musical,” says Munopco “Gypsy” director Daniel Petrovich.
“The characters have depth. It’s fun, whimsical and serious, all at the same time. It has comedy, drama, kids, and livestock [a live lamb is to appear on the Scottish Rite stage] ... Everything a musical should have,” Petrovich says.
“Gypsy” is based on the true show business story of sisters Louise and June, who are dominated by the ultimate stage mother Rose. Louise became Gypsy Rose Lee, who was known as a burlesque stripper. June became Hollywood actress June Havoc.
The musical is known for such upbeat songs as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You,” but Petrovich points out that the show is also very dark: “The first act ends with Rose having a nervous breakdown onstage.”
Petrovich agrees with many critics that the musical foreshadows Sondheim’s later dark turns in musicals like “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods.”
The cast includes Julie Valenzuela (Rose), Jillian Rossi (Louise), Ally Borgstrom (June) and Robert Calder (Herbie).
It’s Valenzuela’s first show for Munopco. She appeared as the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol” at Civic Theatre in 2017.
Rossi has appeared in Munopco’s “Funny Girl,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Shout!,” “Pippin” and “The Music Man.”
Rose is one of the most complex characters ever to appear in a Broadway musical. Says Petrovich:
“Every woman who has played Rose has either been nominated for or won a Tony Award.”
Tyne Daly won a Tony as Rose in “Gypsy” in 1990. Patti LuPone won a Tony as Rose in “Gypsy” in 2008. Bette Midler played Rose in a 1993 made-for-TV movie.
“People think of her [Rose] as an extreme stage mother, but I think that they miss the depth of her personality. She pushed her children and other children, but as she says in the end, ‘I guess I was doing it all for myself,’” says Petrovich.
Petrovich, who has directed “A Chorus Line” and “Catch Me If You Can” for Munopco, says “Gypsy” is an actors’ show, in that it concentrates on them. With a cast of about 30, it does not have huge chorus numbers, and although there are many scene changes, the sets do not have to be overly-elaborate. It is not a technical nightmare to present, and at about two hours and 15 minutes, it is not overly-long.
“You just have to tell the actors what they need to do, and let them pick up and find their own interpretation,” Petrovich says.
This is Petrovich’s third go-round with “Gypsy.” He acted in the show while in college, and it was the first show he directed for community theater for a Catholic High School in West Virginia.
He also remembers being mesmerized by the 1962 motion picture starring Natalie Wood as Louise and Rosalind Russell as Rose when it was shown as a “Movie of the Week” on TV in years past.
“It’s a play [‘Gypsy’] that should be revisited,” he says.
“Every time you see it you can find something new, but it fits in people’s comfort zones with familiar characters and story.”
There is reportedly a new version of “Gypsy” in the works, to be directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who has won four Emmy Awards for writing, creating, producing and directing the Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Tickets: Scottish Rite Cathedral box office, 1533 Hamilton St. Allentown; www.munopco.org/tickets; 610-437-2441