By Heidi Sutton
Since its Broadway debut in 1959, “Gypsy” has often been referred to as one of the greatest musicals of all time, with such classic hits as “If Mama Was Married,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “Let Me Entertain You” and everyone’s favorite, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Now the award-winning show arrives at the Engeman Theater in Northport through Oct. 29 and lives up to its reputation in spades.
With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “Gypsy” is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of the 1930s burlesque star Rose Louise Horvick, known professionally as Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother Rose has big dreams for her youngest daughter June (actress June Havoc) to make it in show biz and drags both sisters around the country to perform their Vaudeville act, which isn’t very good.
Rose hires dancers and an agent, Herbie, to help them get gigs, but the act never gets off the ground. When June has finally had enough and runs off to elope with one of the dancers, Rose turns her attention to the less talented Louise. It is then that the audience realizes that Rose is the one craving stardom and Louise is just a pawn to achieve that goal.
With a totally revised show, Louise and her dancers mistakenly end up in a burlesque house. With not a dime to their name, Rose convinces Louise to give stripping a try and Gypsy Rose Lee is born. Now famous all over the world, Louise eventually tires of her mother’s controlling ways and breaks away, leaving Rose devastated and alone in the final scene.
Directed by Igor Golden, the large cast features Michele Ragusa as Rose, Austen Danielle Bohmer as Louise, Charity Van Tassel as June and John Scherer as Herbie. From her first solo, “Some People,” to the finale, “Rose’s Turn,” Ragusa shines in the role of the quintessential stage mother. Last seen on the Engeman stage as the scheming Mrs. Meers in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Ragusa can easily take a seat alongside her predecessors Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler and Tyne Daly.
Bohmer, making her debut on the Engeman stage, gives a rousing performance as Louise. Watching her transform from a shy, awkward teenager to a burlesque star is truly remarkable. Though only seen in the first act, Van Tassel has her work cut out for her as the star of a failing Vaudeville act that sometimes includes a cow. Scherer is brilliant as Herbie and quickly garners sympathy from the audience as he patiently waits for years for Rose to marry him, only to walk away in the end.
There are too many wonderful performances to mention, and the entire ensemble is terrific — particularly when delivering Drew Humphrey’s clever choreography. But special mention must be made of Jennifer Collester Tully, Suzanne Mason and Amber Carson for their showstoppping rendition of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and to Bryan Thomas Hunt as Tulsa who gives an incredible performance in “All I Need Is the Girl.”
The set, designed by Nate Bertone, is impeccable and lighting by Zach Blane is brilliantly executed. Kudos to Kurt Alger for capturing America’s fading Vaudeville circuit with beautifully detailed costumes and to the six-member powerhouse band led by Alex Bart that tie the show together in a neat little package that is not to be missed.
Let the Engeman entertain you. Go see “Gypsy.”
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Gypsy” through Oct. 29. Tickets range from $73 to $78. Free valet parking. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.
All photos by Michael DeCristofaro