Gypsy

Written on March 12th, 2014

Rose’s Turn

The production of Gypsy, now on stage at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, is indeed Rose’s turn. Canada’s own Louise Pitre commands the stage as Rose with such passion that there is no doubt she means it when she says “With what I got in me, I could have been better than any of you! What I got in me, what I’ve been holding down inside of me, if I ever let it out, there wouldn’t be signs big enough! There wouldn’t be lights bright enough!”

Rose is the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, the world’s most famous stripper. Rose pushed her daughter into Burlesque after years of fruitlessly trying to turn her into a Vaudeville star, and the musical is an examination of Rose’s determination.Gypsy - Louise Pitre

Ms. Pitre is best known as Donna in the Toronto version of Mamma Mia that went on to Broadway where she earned a Tony nomination. She will also be familiar to audiences at London’s Grand Theatre for her roles in For the Pleasure of Seeing her Again, the touching Michel Tremblay play about a mother-son relationship, and Could You Wait, a charming wartime love story written by Ms. Pitre’s husband Joe Matheson. In both Grand productions Pitre and Matheson played opposite each other.

The story starts with Rose, stage mom extraordinaire, pushing her two young daughters to perform at talent shows. She steals from her father to take her kids on the road to make it in Vaudeville. Along the way she picks up a supporting cast of boys – naming them for the place she found them, such as Yonkers and Tulsa – all in support of Baby June, her beautiful daughter with golden curls. The other daughter, Louise, lacking stage presence, is also relegated to the role of a supporting boy. As the kids grow up, Rose keeps presenting them as cute little children on stage. Finally, June can’t stand her mother anymore, and elopes with fellow cast member, Tulsa. Rose turns all her attention on Louise, and with Vaudeville dying, literally shoves Louise on stage as the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, so that finally, she can be a star.

The show features wonderful songs; memorable tunes with brilliant lyrics. Pitre’s husky voice is perfect for belting out “Some People”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn”. She also has fun with “Mr. Goldstone” and “Together Wherever We Go”.

Jessica Rush is excellent as Louise. We see her change from the shy kid to the girl just trying to please her mother, to the rich, famous and very pretentious Gypsy Rose Lee.

Among other stand-out moments in the show are Tulsa’s (Rhett Guter) footwork in “All I Need is the Girl” and of course, the strippers. Always an audience favourite, these three are excellent: Tessie Tura (Barbara E. Robertson), Mazeppa (Molly Callinan) and Electra (Rengin Altay) with their version of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”. Tessie Tura’s flipping butterfly, Mazeppa’s Roman Gladiator costume, and Electra’s lights – I think that was a fully lit Eiffel Tower on her head—garner the laughs as they demonstrate how they make their strip special.

The Shakespeare-style thrust stage, while it resembles our own Stratford Festival theatre, has balconies in the surrounding circular wall making it look more like London, England’s Globe Theatre. The audience surrounding the stage gets an intimate view of Ms. Pitre’s powerful performance.

I have had the pleasure of seeing many different productions of Gypsy. Ms. Pitre gives us the most driven, commanding, and hungriest Rose ever. She leaves the audience exhausted with her passionate performance. It’s worth the trip to Chicago.

As Rose says, “Someone tell me, when is it my turn? Don’t I get a dream for myself?” This is show is indeed Rose’s turn, and Ms. Pitre has taken full advantage of this powerful role.

Gypsy continues at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Navy Pier, Chicago, until March 23. For tickets, visit http://www.chicagoshakes.com/

Gypsy
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Jules Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Gary Griffin
Choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton
Musical direction by Rick Fox
Performed by Louise Pitre as Rose
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Navy Pier
February 6 to March 23, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

 

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