Despite our city having fallen victim to a real “Chicago Winter”, my spirits are higher than the temperature I wish we were having. Why this strange warmth? The answer is very simple, Theaters in the area are bringing Sondheim to their stages. What more could one ask?
The Mercury Theater is featuring the-hypocrites production of “Into The Woods” and Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier has a sharp, in fact “brilliant” production of “Gypsy” on its Courtyard stage with “Road Show” opening in mid-March upstairs in the more intimate theater. While this is very special, our little Cabaret theater up in Rogers Park, will be bringing to life “Passion”- wow! talk about a “Sondheim Experience!”
Right now, I must tell you with extreme enthusiasm just how wonderful the CST production of “Gypsy” is! It is utterly “smashing” from start to finish and is two plus house of sheer magic on a stage. Directed by Gary Griffin ( who understands the music of Sondheim as well as any director could ( and even better), who is also directing the 2nd portion of the “double Bill” upstairs, he has worked magic on the thrust stage at CST. Over the last few years , each year, he has directed a musical ( mostly Sondheim works) and has brought his “touch” to each production.
To assist him in this slick production he has choreographer Mitzi Hamilton who has done some newer dance numbers and music direction by Rick Fox with the onstage ( in a mezzanine type, onstage setting) orchestra Conducted by Valerie Maze and thirteen terrific musicians. The set, quite simple and imaginative (Kevin Depinet) allows for easy changes, glitzy costumes (Virgil C. Johnson), solid lighting ( Philip S. Rosenberg), sound ( Dan Mead and Ray Nardelli) wonderful wigs and make-up (Melissa Veal) which all add to the magic of what Mr. Griffin has created, along with the masterful book by Arthur Laurents, the Music of Julie Styne and Sondheim’s incredible lyrics.
“Gypsy” is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, probably the most notable of “strippers” who may have been the one responsible for the coining of the phrase “Strip TEASE” as she never truly stripped, and yet, most men will swear they saw her with their own eyes. Ah, the power of seduction!
Gypsy , as a little girl was raised by her single mother, Rose and worked vaudeville with her sister June ( who did become an actress, June Havoc). Mama Rose was the stage mothers of all stage mothers, working hard to get her Baby June to the stardom that in her heart, she felt she missed. This is their story. The ups and downs, the family relationships between the women and the man who would bring them up from the depths they were in at the time. Louise, who transforms from the no-talent older sister of June to “Gypsy Rose Lee” is an amazing story and Griffin has what I would call a cast that fits into every crack and crevice of the backstage life that can swallow up those who seek the spotlight.
Mama Rose is a role that almost every actress would give their eye tooth to play. It was originated by Ethel Merman and she has some tough shoes to fit into. Over the years we have had some wonderful local actresses take on this role, but Griffin was looking for someone special for this production, and guess what? He found her! Louise Pitre is absolutely “Rose”. Despite having a strained voice ( it was noticable, but never detracted from the solid performance by the actress, who stops the show during the second act when she does “Rose’s Turn”- WOW! She is someone special!
Her daughters are played by Caroline Heffernan ( young Louise) and the adorable Emily Leahy ( Baby June) and then as June (Erin Burniston) and Louise ( the very long-legged Jessica Rush). As Herbie, the love interest for Mama Rose, we get to watch local favorite Keith Kupferer show us a different side as he becomes a “song and dance man” ( surprise, surprise he is pretty good!).
This is a show filled with wonderful, memorable music- “Let Me Entertain You”, “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”, ” I Had A Dream”, “Together Wherever We Go”, “Small World, Isn’t It?”, “All I Need is The Girl” ( a specialty dance number handled flawlessly by Rhett Guter) “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”and oh, so many more. One of the highlights of this show is the three strippers telling Louise, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” ( cleverly staged with three remarkable talents; Molly Callinan , as Mazeppa;Rengin Altay as Electra and Barbara E. Robertson as Tessie Tura- these ladies are worth the price of the ticket alone.
If you only have one BIG musical to see this year, let it be this one. You will, no matter how many times you may have seen it before, find yourself seeing it in a new light. Part of that is Griffin and the rest of that is the talent on the stage. As I always say, the ensemble can make or break a show and this ensemble of players MAKES this production in all caps!
From the kids: Nate Becker,Killian Hughes, Moira Hughes, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, and Benedict Santos Schwegel to those we have seen countless times, John Reeger, Marc Grapey, Adam Fane, Matt DeCaro, to those making their CST debuts, Betsy Farrar,Landree Fleming, Brandon Haagenson, Dana Parker, Alex Grace Paul,Lauren Roesner and Joseph Sammour- this is a cast that enjoys being in the show as much as we enjoyed watching them create an entertainment experience that we will hold in our hears for a long time.To get your chance to see “Gypsy” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at navy Pier, which runs through March 23rd, I suggest that you call the box office at 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com where you can also see the exact schedule. Tickets range from $48, but there are some specials for those under 35 CST for $20 ) in order to make quality theater more affordable. There is also special discounted parking ( 40% off) .
There are many great dining spots at Navy Pier and all price ranges as well as different types of food.
To see what others are saying about this enchanting production, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click at “Gypsy”.