THEATER: “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” @ Capital Repertory Theatre, 3/21/14

Gypsy: A Musical Fable tells the story of Mama Rose (played by Mary Callanan), the ultimate stage mother, during the waning days of Vaudeville. (Photo: Joe Schuyler)

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Joseph Schuyler

The splendid production of “Gypsy” currently on the boards at Capital Repertory Theatre is a glorious throw-back to the golden days of Broadway. It’s old-school through and through, and that’s a compliment. There are fabulous songs by the team of Julie Styne & Stephen Sondheim, plenty of snappy dancing (thanks to choreographer/actor Freddy Ramirez), some very comical scenes and an array of marvelous, often glittering costumes (courtesy of Denise Massman).

“Let Me Entertain You” is one of several show-stopping tunes from the show, and Cap Rep’s production certainly does that – but it also does so much more.

Yes, you will likely leave the theater at the end of the show humming one of the tunes – there are an abundance of them and many are instantly recognizable. But make no mistake about it, “Gypsy” is a dark tale about a desperately dysfunctional family, a dream deferred and the devastating effects of blind ambition. And while it doesn’t end in tragedy, it’s far from a feel-good musical.

It’s not – as some non-theater buffs likely assume – a show about the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, although she is a central character in the musical. Rather, it’s a complex character study of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Mama Rose (played with unerring focus by Mary Callahan), the domineering steamroller of a woman who is determined to make her daughters vaudeville stars whatever the cost – even as vaudeville is gasping its last gasps and rapidly disappearing from the world of show business.

Callahan carries the show on her broad shoulders, as both a singer and an actor (and a bit of a dancer, too), and her tour de force performance soaks up the spotlight, deftly capturing Mama Rose’s delusion with the Act One closer “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and the piece de resistance “Rose’s Turn.” And when she finally acknowledges, “I just wanted to be noticed,” it resonates with the same impact as the classic “Attention must be paid” from “Death of a Salesman.”

Still there are plenty of bright moments in the show – from the lovely love ballad “Small World” to the chummy “Together Wherever We Go.” And if a Broadway musical requires a novelty song, it should be as appropriately titled as “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” sung as a lesson in the art of stripping by Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra (LoriAnn Freda, Hillary Parker and News Channel 13 anchor Benita Zahn in her Cap Rep debut).

With a cast of nearly two dozen – including a batch of excellent, very young actors – it’s the biggest Cap Rep cast in more than a decade, but thanks to the sure-handed direction of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the stage never looked over-crowded. In addition in Callahan, acting kudos go out to Kelsey Crouch (making the transition from ignored daughter Louise to superstar Gypsy Rose Lee), Bob Walton as Herbie (Mama Rose’s love interest and her daughters’ agent), Alexis Papaleo (as the unbearably adorable Baby June) and Freda (not only portraying stripper Tessie Tura, but also the strait-laced secretary Miss Cratchit).

Yes, there is a Second Act strip-tease routine that demonstrates Louise’s gradual confidence-building as she grows into Gypsy Rose Lee, but it’s pretty tame stuff, perfectly safe for family fare.

“Gypsy: A Musical Fable” continues its run through Sunday, April 13 at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. Ticket prices are $20-$65.

Bob Goepfert’s review at The Troy Record
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Will Gallagher’s review at Discover Albany
B.A. Nilsson’s review at Words and Music
Richard DiMaggio’s review at Did You Weekend?

June (Emily Louise Franklin), her Farm Boys (Connor Russell, Matt Gibson, John T. Wolfe, and Freddie Ramirez), and her sister Louise audition for Mr. T. T. Grantzinger (Photo: Joe Schuyler)
Mama Rose (Mary Callanan), Herbie (Bob Walton), and the troupe of performing kids give Mr. Goldstone from the Orpheum Circuit (Joe Phillips) a warm welcome. (Photo: Joe Schuyler)
The famous young woman who made Burlesque classy and glamorous, Gypsy Rose Lee (Kelsey Crouch), looks back on her younger self. (Photo: Joe Schuyler)

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