Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of one of America’s musical greats has all the glamour of a hoodie and loafers, or maybe a straightjacket and slippers. But that’s the point.
“Gypsy,” directed by Chris Serface with choreography by Lexi Barnett and musical direction by Debra Leach, isn’t as much a play about the title character – famed burlesque icon Gypsy Rose Lee (played by Cassie Jo Fastabend) – as it is about her over-bearing-to-the- point-of-psychosis theater mom, Momma Rose (Stephanie Leeper). This show is the prequel of the legend that only forms right as the curtain closes. So don’t worry about a community theater getting too much into the old bump and grind; this production shows less skin than a Taliban-approved beach walk.
Momma Rose channels all of her dreams of stardom into her children as they perform around the nation as a traveling show in the waning days of vaudeville only to alienate everyone along the way, including her daughters June (Julia Wyman) and Louise (Cassie Jo Fastabend). June escapes with a secret marriage and Louise moves on to reinvent herself and become the most famous burlesque star in history. Leeper offered just the right balance of bat-crap crazy with a dash of actual caring and the pipes to carry the vocals for Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. Leeper’s range created a character who is tragically flawed and most certainly mentally unstable but also ultimately pitied unlike the one-dimensional villainous stage mom Joan “Mommie Dearest” Crawford.
But one role can’t carry a show. Lucky for Leeper that the balance of the cast held their own, particularly Fastabend in the title role and Jed Slaughter as Momma Rose’s conflict-avoiding love interest Herbie. One standout in the roster of actors in supporting roles was Emilie Rommel-Shimkus, who easily challenged Leeper in the thunder-throat department and brought it all to her limited role as Miss Mazeppa during “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Faith Dane, who played the role on Broadway as well as in the 1962 movie version that followed, would be proud.
Standout moments in staging include the mid-song use of strobe lights to show the passage of time with swapping out of Baby June (Alexandria Bray) for older June (Wyman) and the open-curtain use of the theater’s revolving stage to change scenes without breaking the show’s momentum.
The show, which includes the popular hits “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” clocks in at about three hours with an intermission and well worth the time.
“Gypsy” runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 2. Friday and Saturday showings are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There will be a “pay what you can” performance at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23 as well. This show is recommended for ages 12 and up. Tickets are $26, or $24 for seniors, students and military, and $22 for children 12 and under). Tickets may be purchased at tacomalittletheatre.com, or by calling the Box Office at (253) 272-2281. The theater is located at 210 N. I St.