Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Perhaps my over-familiarity with the material got in the way of enjoying a new, smaller scale production. But I feel that, for every strong element in this revival, there is something that just doesn't work. With credit to director Kevin Connors for tackling a show this ambitious, the result is a mixed bag.
Part of the problem is that Music Theatre of Connecticut performs its productions on such a tiny stage that a musical as formidable as Gypsy is almost more than it can handle. As much as their recent scaled-down production of Evita worked like magic, Gypsy just seems like too big a show for this tiny space. To get the bad news out of the way, there are some damaging cuts in Arthur Laurents' book and sometimes the stage looks underpopulated, especially when it comes to the number of "newsboys" in Dainty June's act. Of course, this is a smaller scale presentation of the show, but these are, nonetheless, problematic moments.
This production does get a number of things right. Overall, the cast is quite good, with the fine Paul Binotto an extremely sympathetic Herbie, showing great chemistry with Kirsti Carnahan as Rose. Kate Simone is very touching as Louise, especially in her rendition of "Little Lamb." And while her transformation to Gypsy Rose Lee is not completely successful, she performs with verve, and looks great in the many stylish dresses, beautifully designed by Diane Vanderkroef. Also, her dressing room confrontation scene with Rose near the conclusion is a stunner.
Which brings us to Kirsti Carnahan, as Mama Rose, perhaps the most momentous leading lady role in musical theatre. I saw Carnahan as Marta in the 1993 Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman and she was superb, but I wondered if she was a natural choice to play Rose. As it turns out, Carnahan is quite good in the role, with a strong singing voice and excellent acting. Perhaps her greatest moment is her almost nightmarish "Everything's Coming Up Roses," in which one can see the ruthless and driven nature of the character. The effect is downright scary.
In supporting roles, Carissa Massaro is an appropriately petulant June, and Joe Grandy shines as Tulsa, especially in his "All I Need Is the Girl" specialty. Also standing out are Jodi Stevens, Jeri Kansas and Marca Leigh as the three strippers, who bring down the house with the second act number "You Gotta Get a Gimmick."
If only the rest of the show matched the ecstatic success of that song and the aforementioned "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Overall, production is pleasant, and the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim score is always a privilege to hear. But, ultimately, in spite of the best efforts of the performers and director Kevin Connors, this Gypsy just isn't as consistently entertaining as it can be.
Gypsy continues performances through September 25, 2016, at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave, Norwalk, CT. For tickets, visit www.mtcmainstage.org or call the box office at 203-454-3883.