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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Curtain Up! Light the Lights! Gypsy Comes Up Roses at Toby’s

Cathy Mundy belting out "Everything's Coming
Up Roses"

Oh, how I well remember vaudeville back in the 1920’s! Those singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, minstrels, trained animals, male and female impersonators—you name it.  I had so much fun.

With the iconic musical Gypsy, now playing at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, I can relive those memories of vaudeville with its eventual decline and the rise of burlesque. The Toby’s production of this sterling musical under the co-direction of Helen Hayes Award winners Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick will provide even better memories.  #hocoarts 

Gypsy is a 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim making his Broadway debut, and a book by Arthur Laurents. It is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, her sister June who ultimately became the actress June Havoc and her mother, Rose, who is the focus.

Its songs are phenomenal with many becoming standards, such as “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People,” “Small World,” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” “Rose’s Turn,” and my favorite “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

The original Broadway production received eight Tony Award nominations in 1960 yet failed to cash in on the big prize. However, subsequent revivals did capture Tony’s in 1975, 1990 and 2008.

On top of the skilled musical performances and proficient acting in the Toby’s production of Gypsy you can add in the brilliantly colorful and varied costumes designed by Janine Sunday, the meticulous choreography by Mark Minnick, the solid music direction by Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra, the perfectly balanced sound design by Mark Smedley, and the creative lighting designed by Lynn Joslin. The overall staging of this production is excellent with numerous set pieces moving smoothly on and off the in-the-round stage with precision.

MaryKate Brouillet soars as Louise
Toby’s features an accomplished cast who demonstrate skill, poise, energy and loads of talent. And among them is a bona fide star, Cathy Mundy, playing the lead role of Rose, an archetypical aggressive and brash stage mother.

The story centers on thrice-married Rose pushing her two daughters, June and Louise, at all costs to perform on stage and become stars.  Rose, whose parents as well as her previous husbands had left her, lives vicariously through her daughters and is like a wrecking ball in dealing with promoters, agents and other performers during the declining years of vaudeville.

Baby June is the chosen one to become the star. Onstage she is a precocious blonde cutie-pie while her older sister Louise is shyer and more subdued as she takes the back seat to June. When they get a little older they tire of their mother’s hounding as well as show business, and eventually June runs off to marry a young man in one of the acts her mother created.  Despondent over this development, Rose’s only hope for stardom for her children remains with Louise who can’t see herself as an entertainer.

All the while Rose finds a love interest in Herbie, an agent who has tried to get the acts booked anywhere he can and tries to put up with Rose’s antics.

In a fortuitous development Rose pushes Louise to fill in as a striptease performer in a Wichita burlesque house after one of the strippers was arrested.  Under the advice from her co-strippers she finds a gimmick for her act and the rest, they say, is history. Louise transforms into the famous Gypsy Rose Lee and eschews further involvement from her mother. Rose contemplates what all has happened and acknowledges she did this all for herself.

The part of Rose is a demanding one with belt vocals a necessity. It is a strenuous role not only for the singing performances but also for the acting, and she appears onstage in a vast majority of the scenes.  

Some of the previous stars who performed this role on Broadway over the years include Ethel  Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone.  I am not saying that Cathy Mundy is comparable to these Broadway superstars, but she is darn close. Her acting is top-notch; full of passion and conviction and portrays the loud, single-minded stage mother to the hilt.  She is called upon to navigate the complex character of Rose who is forceful and unbridled but at the same time one can detect a vulnerability from lacking something important in her life.

Cathy Mundy as the incomparable Rose
Ms. Mundy’s powerful vocals are also outstanding, especially in the beautiful ballad “Small World” as part of a duet with David Bosley-Reynolds as Herbie and in another duet “You’ll Never Get Away From Me.” She brought the house down with her rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” that concludes the first act. Ms. Mundy also scores high marks in such numbers as “Some People” and in “Rose’s Turn,” an emotional introspection of her life with all the highs and the many lows. 

To their credit, Ms. Orenstein and Mr. Minnick allow Ms. Mundy to unleash the full potency of her character.  In short, if there is no other reason to see this production, see it for the tour de force performance by Ms. Mundy.

Yet, the rest of the talented cast provides additional reasons to see Gypsy at Toby’s. Lovely MaryKate Brouillet soars as Louise in terms of both acting and vocal skills.  Her rendition of “Little Lamb” is touching as she contemplates her being pushed aside by her mother in favor of June and the loneliness she is experiencing on her birthday with her pet lamb. Her “Gypsy Strip Routine” number is also performed well and is a pivotal part of the plot.

Tina Marie DeSimone, Elizabeth Rayca and Heather Beck perform
"You Gotta Get a Gimmick"
As kind hearted and patient Herbie who was poised to marry Rose, David Bosley-Reynolds remains reserved most of the time (especially in comparison to the hyper Rose) but demonstrates his exasperation towards the end as he leaves Rose still seeking a wife in his life. In addition to the aforementioned duets with Ms. Mundy, he also demonstrates his smooth baritone voice in the bouncy “Together Wherever We Go” with Ms. Mundy and Ms. Brouillet.

There isn’t as much dancing in this production as in some other Toby’s offerings, but what is performed is done so very proficiently under the guiding hand of Mark Minnick.  For example, the young children and Baby June morph seamlessly into adolescents as the older dancers replace the young ones in the dance number “Dainty June and Her Farmboys.”

Louisa Tringali, delightfully playing the role of Dainty June, the older version of Baby June, dances skillfully in the group number “Broadway” along with those Farmboys—a group in the act that Rose created. The Farmboys are played enthusiastically by Shiloh Orr, Justin Calhoun, AJ Whittenberger and James Mernin.

In one of the show’s highlights for me is Shiloh Orr’s showcasing his dancing skills in “All I Need is the Girl” whereby as the character Tulsa he informs Louise of his plan to break away from the Farmboys and form his own dance act.  In this number Orr sings and gracefully glides around the stage while holding a broom employing various dance techniques and steps with an emphasis on tap. It’s a nice demonstration of artistry.
Louisa Tringali and her "boys"--Shiloh Orr, James Mernin,
AJ Whittenberger and Justin Calhoun
Another outstanding scene involves Louise getting advice from three veteran strippers in the song “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” Tina Marie DeSimone, Elizabeth Rayce and an “electric” Heather Beck elicit a huge ovation with tons of laughs during this number.

Other cast members who perform notably include Jeffrey Shankle, Russell Sunday, Robert Biedermann, David James, Coby Kay Callahan, Maggie Dransfield, Amanda Kaplan and Santina Maiolatesi. Oh, and a bark-out to Dudley Foley, a pooch who appears in the early part of the show.

As far as the young children in the cast are concerned, on the evening this performance was reviewed, Nina Brothers as Baby June and Maddie Ellinghaus as Baby Louise performed admirably as did the child’s ensemble consisting of Cooper Trump, Jackson Smith, Hannah Dash.

Gypsy is a must-see show, which offers the complete package: a wonderful score and lyrics and a compelling dramatic storyline with an infusion of comedy that weaves in the music to form a gorgeous tapestry of entertainment.  A talented cast and crew do justice to this iconic musical and you will enjoy Toby’s famously delicious buffet as well.

Toby’s superb production of Gypsy will most certainly entertain you and you’ll have a real good time.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Gypsy runs through March 17 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online .

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

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