THE LEAR OF MUSICAL THEATRE

I have seen the best stage version of the musical Gypsy I've ever seen. I saw it Saturday. It was directed by Scott RC Levy. It was at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. It was epic. It was funny. It was full of spectacle, but also intensely intimate. I don't say this lightly. I don't say this off the cuff. This show was fantastic, and this company is consistently putting up the kind of theatre that reminds you why you go to theatre in the first place: in the hopes that you will be transported to another level of being, where strangers who are hauntingly familiar alternately titillate, endear, enrage, confuse, and ultimately enlighten you a tiny bit on the huge mystery of what it is to be a human being. Again, the company who is doing all this is the theatre at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, where Mr. Levy is the artistic director.



While Gypsy ostensibly about the early days of the girl who would grow up to become the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, it's really all about Mama Rose, the mother of favorite daughter Baby June and overlooked wallflower Louise- who of course turns out to be the one who grows up and achieves stardom. Mama Rose is a huge role. Mr. Levy calls it the Lear of musical theatre- and with good cause. Mama Rose has to be larger than life, brash, at times fragile, at other times immovable. A good Mama Rose has to be able to get you rooting for her, loving her- and then get you to find her a bit insane and mad at yourself for wanting her to succeed, and then get you to feel guilty about being mad at her. A.J. Mooney plays Mama Rose better than any I've ever seen- and I've seen a lot, including Bernadette Peters on Broadway. The moment she literally climbs on stage in the first scene, you can't help but be mesmerized. Mooney oozes presence, sex appeal, and just the right amount of madness to make her impossible not to gaze at in wonder every second she's on stage. She can sing to shake the rafters, moves like a natural born dancer, and has the kind of acting chops you just don't see all that often. Put simply, she rocks. Levy has surrounded her with a fantastic company, a brilliant set, outstanding costumes, and a rocking orchestra led by Roberta Jacyshyn. Standouts in the cast include Lacey Connell, who plays Louise. Connell gives us a Louise who is intensely lonely, a girl with an incredibly complicated relationship with her mother and also with her sister June, Mama Rose's clear favorite. Connell's Louise struck me as a little bit nutty herself, and her transformation into a rather rough Gypsy Rose Lee at the end of the play made complete sense to me- it was like seeing her in a certain way take on some of the not so nice aspects of her mother. Creepy, sad, and really great theatre. Equally excellent is Nicole Dawson as June- who clearly wants to get the hell away from her overbearing mother, and eventually does when she elopes with a boy from their vaudeville act named Tulsa- played by Ryan Miller who does a great job with the number "All I need is the girl". Dawson and Connell's duet about wishing their mother would settle down and get married is sweet, and just a little bit sad. I loved it. Stephen Day as the long suffering/smitten Herbie, who carries a torch for Mama Rose and puts up with a lot is so good I was rooting for him to make everything come out alright, even though I knew the story and how it would end. Also, Sally Lewis Hybl, Anita Lane, and Becca Vourvoulos as the three strippers who give Louise advice in Act Two are priceless.

What I really love about this production was the way Levy moved it along- making us laugh at the absurdity and wonder of a life seeking stardom, disarming us with the charm of theatrical dreams about the roar of the crowd and all that- and then ripping open our hearts and letting out a lot of dark, strange demons in the huge final number that Mama Rose sings.

Okay. Suffice to say, the show rocked, and you all need to go see any and all shows done at FAC.

And in December, don't forget to come to Boulder to see my new musical, ROSE RED.


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