Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Gypsy

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Gypsy. The book was by Arthur Laurents, the music was by Jule Styne, and the lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim. It was directed by Michael Weber, the music direction was by David Fiorello, and the choreography was by Chris Carter. It is about a woman named Rose (E. Faye Butler) who has two daughters, June (Izzie Rose as the child, Aalon Smith as the young woman) and Louise (Jillian-Giselle as the child, Daryn Whitney Harrell as the young woman). Rose is a stage mother who is trying to make her daughter Baby June famous. But when things don't go her way she decides to shift her attention to Louise. It is about motherhood, fame, and delusions. I really love this show and this is a great production of it. It has amazing actors and a great live band.

I though the opening sequence was unique and really pulled you into the story. Usually during the overture you are sitting there thinking, "When is the show going to start?" But in this production, the story had already started. Young Louise was walking around the stage investigating all the instruments, and conducting the musicians. It showed you how curious and interested Louise is beneath the shyness she shows as Young Louise in the rest of the play. She is usually pushed to the background in the first part of Act 1, but with this opening sequence you feel like you get to know her better. Adult Louise is still very shy and doesn't want to be in the spotlight. She thinks that is June's job, But she has a drastic shift of her perception of herself on stage in front of the audience during "Let Me Entertain You." You see that same look in her eyes as she had as a child in the opening sequence when she truly felt in control and appreciated by the people around her. I think it is really powerful to see the childlike wonder in her eyes both when she is a child and when she strips for the first time. It shows that she does love what she is doing even though it is not a "respectable" job. It is what she loves because she feels curious and in control, which seems to be the same feeling she had with the band as a child.

The song "Rose's Turn" was performed absolutely phenomenally by E. Faye Butler. To me it seemed like she was born for that role. It is a very powerful and vocally demanding song and she made it flow so naturally and effortlessly. I could listen to it all day. In the scene preceding the song, there was a poster of Gypsy Rose Lee which fell off during the transition. I believe it wasn't purposeful, but of course the audience and the actors notice there is a large poster on the ground. So, E Faye Butler directed her opening lines of the song to the poster and it was just amazing. It was crazy to me that it wasn't planned because she made it work so perfectly. It seemed like whatever curveball got thrown at her, she could make it seem like it was part of the story. She is just everyone's performance goals. I was in awe of her for the entire show.

I like how the set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) seemed to show the two different sides of Louise's story. There is one side that is fame and fortune and a glorified Hollywood idea of vaudeville with its fancy classic red curtains and gold painted decoration. The other side seems to be more the reality of vaudeville, which is that it is sometimes grimy and the conditions are unfavorable, but they still put on a big act. I also really liked how you could see people in the cast watching the show from "the wings." I was worried that it might distract from the story, but it made you connect with the performers because you were all sharing the same experience at the same time. It makes the scenes of the musical seem more theatrical. You are still immersed in the story, but you understand that theater is the main drive of Rose's and her daughters' lives and that they are always performing even if they aren't on stage.

People who would like this show are people who like metaphorical sets, engaging overtures, and flawlessly performed stage mothers. I think this is an amazing show. I would definitely recommend it. It made me see new things about Gypsy I hadn't thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Courier

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