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Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre Gypsy

By • Jun 19th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Gypsy
Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre: (Info) (Web)
CCBC Main Stage , Baltimore, MD
Through June 30th
3:00 with intermission
$20/$18 Seniors and Alunmi
Reviewed June 15th, 2013

In their 1959 hit Gypsy, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim wrote the saddest up-tempo, optimistic song in the classic Broadway musical canon. It’s also the best-known song in the show, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and in Baltimore County’s Cockpit in Court Summer Theater production, Shannon Wollman as Mama Rose sings it flawlessly. Better than flawlessly, really: nowhere else in the production is Rose’s near-sociopathic inability to empathize with others and her detachment from reality made so starkly clear. But what gives the scene its heartbreaking dramatic impact is the almost wordless reaction of her daughter Louise (Laura Donnelly). Their vaudeville act has fallen apart. It’s time for Rose, her longtime lover Herbie (Roger Schulman), and Louise to go home and have a normal life, which Louise craves with every fiber of her being. Rose just won’t have it. The show must and will go on. Upstage of the spotlight focused on Rose as she sings, Louise’s body stiffens, her face crumples, she backs away from her mother like an uncomprehending wounded animal, she seeks comfort in Herbie’s arms, knowing that this well-meaning but weak man cannot protect her. It is a moment for the crushing of a vulnerable soul, and Donnelly’s performance captures that moment as well as I have ever seen it.

Rose is one of the greatest female roles in musical theater, played over the years by an all-star list of performers beginning with Ethel Merman and including, among others, Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, and (on film) Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler. While always grounded in Rose’s overwhelming determination, energy, and will, it is a great role in large part because of the wide scope of interpretive possibilities it offers. For the most part, Wollman’s interpretation emphasizes the charming and charismatic nature of the character, as when in “Together Wherever We Go” she once more pulls Herbie and Louise (who by this time know better) into her vision of their performing future.

Rose’s climactic soliloquy “Rose’s Turn” (a classic “11 O’clock Number” if ever there was) becomes a matter of her finally achieving a measure self-awareness, thereby hinting at a more hopeful future for the character. (This production retains the original version’s reconciliation between mother and daughter at the end of the show, as opposed to bleaker endings in some of the revivals.) Wollman’s take is not as sexy and crazy as some interpretations of the number — I would like to have seen a little more craziness, physically and vocally, though this is a matter of choices among valid options — but captures beautifully the roots of her character in a never-resolved sense of loss from her own mother’s abandonment of her. Wollman is a fine singer, with more of a lyric quality to her voice than the belt associated with the role ever since Merman originated it. In appearance more youthful than many Roses, she appears to age not a day while three different girls and women play Louise at different stages of her life. Make-up and a few subtle physical acting choices might have shown changes in her over the years covered by the play.

In addition to her superb reactions during “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” Donnelly sings the wistful “Little Lamb” sweetly. She grows from an ugly duckling, very much under her mother’s command, into an assertive person who becomes her own woman, and Donnelly makes the gradual progress of her transformation very clear to the audience. Getting the same actress to portray effectively both the adolescent Louise and the grown Gypsy Rose Lee is a chronic challenge in all productions of this show, and Donnelly is less persuasive as the adult burlesque queen than as her younger incarnation. This is particularly the case in her late second act confrontation with Rose, in which Louise comes off more as a still-hurting child than a proud, self-assured star. She carries off the glamour of her adult performing persona, somewhat less so its sexual allure.

Donnelly and Dainty June (Anna Holmes) pair nicely in the very funny and wryly resentful “If Momma Were Married.” Homes gives a stronger, more aggressive and egotistical edge to June (as does her younger version, played by Katerina Lomis) than I have seen in other productions. The historical June grew up to be June Havoc, a very successful actress who reportedly was very unhappy with her portrayal in Gypsy. Havoc might have been even more displeased with the interpretation of the character based on her in this production; that, however, is to the credit of Holmes, Lomis, and director John Desmone, who succeed in making June considerably more interesting than usual.

Another nice touch by Desmone involved the developing relationship between June and one of the boys in the act, Tulsa (Shane Lowry), with whom she ultimately runs off. The script only mentions the relationship after the two have left. In earlier first act scenes, Desmone has Tulsa nonverbally interacting with June in a way that prefigures their connection (e.g., familiarly touching her shoulders in the “Mr. Goldstone” scene). Lowry also has an athletic, showy solo dance turn in “All I Need Now Is the Girl” in the latter part of the first act.

Herbie is one of those thankless roles of a man with kind instincts but an absence of spine, dominated by a stronger woman, the sort of nice guy who Leo Durocher is supposed to have said finishes last (musical theater cousins include Amos Hart from Chicago and Johnny Brown from The Unsinkable Molly Brown). Schulman, with his large, somewhat shambling presence, gets more dignity into the role than is the norm, particularly in his final scene with Rose in which he tells her passionately of his reasons for leaving.

This production involves a very large cast, one of the largest I have seen in a community theater production. To the credit of the Cockpit group and its actor base, there are no weak spots apparent, even in the smallest roles. Among the smaller roles that deserve mention are Tessi Tura (Laura May), the leader of the trio of three strippers in the always funny “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” number and Miss Cratchitt (Nadine Wellington), the seen-it-all secretary for a vaudeville producer for whom Rose’s act is auditioning.

Cockpit’s production style evokes the way the Gypsy might well have been mounted in 1959. The set — rented or borrowed from a professional company in Long island — uses flown-in two-dimensional backdrops augmented by smaller set-pieces (e.g., for Rose’s grandfather’s house, a boarding house where the vaudeville troupe lives on the road) rolled on in front of the drops. In the days before mechanized and computerized set changes, it was commonplace to write scenes to be played in front of the proscenium curtain while set changes were made behind it. The Cockpit production includes more of these front-of-curtain scenes than I have seen in decades, avoiding awkward pauses in the action but at some cost in visual depth and realism. But this now-archaic production style worked for audiences throughout the belle epoque of the Broadway musical, and it still works here.

The costumes, coordinated by James J. Fasching and Mark Briner, were varied, colorful, and period-appropriate. Given the size of the cast, the costume people had quite a logistical task, and they were up to it. Miss Cratchitt’s dress was a particular favorite of mine, and the various intentionally silly outfits work by members of Rose’s vaudeville act were consistently amusing. The rapid costume changes for Gypsy’s ascent from rookie stripper to stardom were handled with dispatch, with each costume becoming more glamorous than the last (her final gold gown in the series was particularly pretty).

Tim Viet’s 10-piece band accompanied the action effectively, though the thinness of the reduced orchestration was sometimes noticeable (scores of the era in which Gypsy opened were orchestrated for considerably larger ensembles). Tempi did not lag, and the sound design and operation (Terry Edwards) kept a balance between the band and the singers. At times, the volume of the amplification was as overwhelming as Rose’s personality, and many of the microphones worn by the actors were not visually subtle.

This Gypsy is a first-rate production, on a level with the best community theater work I’ve seen in other parts of the region. It’s well worth seeing, even if for those of us closer to DC than Baltimore you have to drive a bit to get to it.

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

Cast

  • Uncle Jocko: Henry Reisinger, Jr.
  • Georgie: Lou Otero
  • Kid Auditioners:
  • Balloon Girl: Clara Guston
  • Victor the Violin Virtuoso: Wesley Brown
  • Ballerina Baby: Maia Vong
  • Betty the Baton Twirler: Angela-Marie J. Boeren
  • Juggling Jimmy: Andrew J. Boeren
  • Kid Auditioners’ Mothers: Cheryl J. Campo, Sabrina Einolf, Mary Gorman, Tara Herbert
  • Baby June: Katerina Lomis
  • Baby Louise: Sophia DeVito
  • Rose: Shannon Wollman
  • Pop: Dave Guy
  • Weber: H. Ray Lawson
  • Herbie: Roger Schulman
  • Newsboys:
  • Tulsa: Andrew J. Boeren
  • Yonkers: Mattias Hanchard
  • L.A.: Angela-Marie J. Boeren
  • Dainty June: Anna Holmes
  • Louise: Laura Donnelly
  • Farmboys
  • Tulsa: Shane Lowry
  • Yonkers: Tyrell Stanley
  • L.A.: James Ruth
  • Angie: Josh Schoff
  • Waitress: Cheryl J. Campo
  • Kringelein: Wayne Ivusich
  • Gladys: Sabrina Einolf
  • Boarders: Rick Arnold, Wesley Brown, Cheryl J. Campo, Sabrina Einolf Mary Gorman, Amy Greco, Tara Herbert, Jennifer Otero, Maia Vong
  • Mr. Goldstone: Bill Pheil
  • Miss Cratchitt: Nadine Wellington
  • Hollywood Blondes:
  • Agnes/Amanda: Amy Greco
  • Dolores: Rachel Verhaaren
  • Edna: Amanda Dickson
  • Gayle: Jennifer Otero
  • Marjorie May: Lindsay Deitrich
  • Thelma: Zoe Feldman
  • Cigar: Rick Arnold
  • Pastey: Lans Alexis
  • Tessie Tura: Laura May
  • Mazeppa: Lisa Pastella-Young
  • Electra: Sarah Ford Gorman
  • Showgirls: Lindsay Deitrich, Amanda Dickson, Zoe Feldman Amy Greco, Jennifer Otero, Rachel Verhaaren
  • Renee: Jennifer Otero
  • Phil: Gary Dieter
  • Bourgeron-Cochon: Alan M. Berlett
  • Cow (Act 2): Lou Otero, Josh Schoff
  • David Kahn: Greg Guyton
  • Barbara Kahn: Jennifer Skarzinski
  • Trudy Heyman: Regina Rose
  • Martin Heyman: Thom Peters
  • Sophie Greengrass: Marge Ricci
  • Maurice Koenig: John Rowe

Orchestra

  • Conductor: Tim Viets
  • Piano: Sally Tarr, Michael DeVito
  • Bass: Robert DeLisle
  • Percussion: Saul Green
  • Reed I: Steven Haaser
  • Reed II: Helen Schlaich
  • Trumpet: Tony Neenan
  • Trumpet: Chris Shiley
  • Trombone: Jeff Harrigan
  • Trombone: Jay Ellis
  • Trombone: Peter Francis

Production Staff

  • Director/Choreographer: Albert J. Boeren
  • Musical Director: Sally Tarr
  • Orchestra Manager/Conductor: Tim Viets
  • Stage Manager: Molly Hopkins
  • Choreographer: Bambi Johnson
  • Technical Director: G. Maurice “Moe” Conn
  • Sound Designer/Operator: Terry Edwards
  • Sound Designer: Albert J. Boeren
  • Sound Intern: Edwin Stagmeyer
  • Costume Coordinators: James J. Faschingl, Mark Briner
  • Costume Assistants: Bill Lunner, Lindsay Franks
  • Shannon Wollman’s Dresser: Brian Kane
  • Lighting Designer: Michael Rasinski, Nathan Best
  • Light Board Operator: Devin McKay
  • Lighting Crew: Emily Andrews, Nichole Chaney, Devin McKay, Matt Norton
  • Spotlight Operators: Lisa Deiss, Tony Steiner
  • Scenery provided by: Gateway Playhouse, Bellport, NY
  • Gateway Playhouse Technicians: Dennis Berfield, Charlie Bell
  • Deck Chief: Nicolle Walker
  • Load-in/Build Crew: Emily Andrews, Nichole Chaney, Devin McKay, Matt Norton, Sarah Senior, Tony Steiner, Patrick Youells

Disclaimer: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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