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Gypsy: A Musical Fable

Village Playhouse pulls off this big, challenging musical about the ultimate stage mom

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In some ways Gypsy is a relic. In fact it’s a relic about a relic — the consummate musical, from the glory days of musicals, showing us the last days of vaudeville.

The heroine is the ultimate stage mom, the manipulative, maddening, at times winning Mama Rose, who trucks her daughters June and Louise all over the country, trying to make them stars.

One of the best jokes is that even as Mama Rose continually reinvents the act, it always starts with the same “Extra! Extra!” riff, ends with the same patriotic Sousa schlock, and for some reason involves a cow. It’s dated and corny, but squint your eyes and you can almost see the robotic David Archuleta, the American Idol runner-up whose father was banned from backstage (and who chose “America” on Neil Diamond night).

And as the act lands at a seedy burlesque hall and the supposedly untalented Louise becomes Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, one imagines an overly-artsy director flashing up Miley Cyrus’s recent Vanity Fair photo of her wrapped in a sheet.

There’s no such ham-handedness in Maida Libkin’s direction of Gypsy. After all, this is family-friendly Mt. Pleasant, and the great thing about this show about a dysfunctional stage family is it’s put on by two stage families.

The first is The Company Company: Maida’s husband Bill Schlitt plays the male lead Herbie, flawless singing as ever, their daughter Johanna Libkin Schlitt is perfect as June, Louise’s talented and blonder sister.

The other family is Village Playhouse owners Keely Enright and Dave Reinwald. Their daughter Piper Enright Reinwald is adorable as a balloon girl and Keely Enright has a cameo as Electra, one of the burlesque dancers.

(“Mommy’s playing a stripper honey!”)

Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics to Gypsy, the music is by Jule Styne, the other time he served as lyricist only was for West Side Story. Nonetheless Gypsy has that same edgy Sondheim feel, and the same Sondheim degree of difficulty. His songs are easy to sing, as long as you have a massive range and don’t like breathing.

Adam Johnston as Tulsa powers through a tough song and dance number “All I Need is the Girl,” but most deserving of a post-curtain-call oxygen mask is of course Kathy Summer as Mama Rose. Right off the bat she nails this silverware-stealing, dogfood-eating (so her kids can have chow mein), false-rape-accusing character.

This is community theatre and she might not be Patti Lupone up there (the favorite for the Tony in the same role) but her closer of “Rose’s Turn” is virtuosic.

Kain Cameron is a riot (and not bad on the horn) as the Spartan-warrior-costumd Mazeppa. “If you wanna stump it, bump it with a trumpet!” And if you weren’t familiar with the story, Emily Wilhoit plays Louise so subtly you’d never know she ends up as the sexy Gypsy Rose Lee.

A fast-paced two and a half hours with intermission, Gypsy features child accordion-playing, baton-twirling and some fairly-chaste stripping — by adults. In a time of myriad electronic entertainments, it’s terribly charming to see these talented theatre families present a show about a not-so-talented, old-fashioned family act.

Gypsy: A Musical Fable • Piccolo Theatre Series • $25 • May 24, 31, June 7 at 7 p.m., May 28, 30, June 6, 7 at 8 p.m., May 25, June 1, 8 at 3 p.m. • Village Playhouse, 730 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant • (888) 374-2656

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