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“Gypsy” struggles to entertain us at 73rd Avenue Theatre

Gypsy tells the story of a mother (Rose) clinging to a dream of Vaudeville success when Vaudeville is dying – and her daughter (Louise) who uses skill and simplicity to rise above the gimmicky world in which she was raised. The recent production of Gypsy at 73rd Avenue Theatre Company felt like a family affair – unfortunately, not in a tight-knit, intimate and inspiring way, but in an unpolished, homegrown way.

SHE SAID: My overall impression was that this production was hindered by a clear lack of resources, including the space.  The theatre was inserted into what was formerly a garage, with poor light and sound barriers between all the spaces. The stage itself was small and reminded me of a cave, black and colored only with a few hanging pinkish-purple curtains. The entire music department was represented by a single piano, which was unfortunately not tuned, and not amplified.

HE SAID: I whole-heartedly agree.  The few hanging curtains felt a little bit like an afterthought and didn’t really do anything to elevate the production. I also, was surprised that the show was being done with one piano. I know it is hard to pay for musicians, but this show has some great show stopping numbers that never seemed robust enough, in part due to the performers, but in part due to the lack of overall sound. At least they could have had the piano tuned.

SHE SAID: As Mama Rose, Amy Luna was certainly cast for her strong commitment and vocal experience. I thought she handled the lower part of her singing register quite well but clunkily switched into her head voice exactly when she was meant to be belting with the best of the Broadway divas. Tara Farnsworth was precast in the title role. During her first scene, I caught her sneaking peeks into the audience, which spoke to her level of focus. Her singing and dancing were a bit self-conscious and unsure, which was appropriate for her character in the beginning of the show but became less fitting as her character begins to dominate the world of strip tease. As Herbie, Steve Seaholm was sweet and sincere, and as Dainty June, Mari Banka had the vocal strength, sweet face and acting confidence appropriate for the role, though I wished she had more dancing training to sell the fact that she had grown up “in the business.” Most of the actors playing smaller roles struggled to overcome clichés and embody real characters. One exception was Sheri McCaskill, who portrayed several small roles in the first act with simplicity and honesty.

HE SAID: Again, I think you pretty much nailed it. I think the problem in the smaller characters stemmed from the fact that a few actors were playing several smaller parts. Not every actor is capable of creating several characters that are distinct and believable enough that the audience almost forgets that it is the same person. As this production demonstrates, when handling multiple parts, it becomes easy to drop into overblown clichés to portray smaller roles, including one actor doing a distractingly misplaced impression of Quagmire from Family Guy in the second act.

SHE SAID: The direction and choreography, both done by Ellen Farnsworth, were not able to overcome these obstacles. A few times, I thought that the staging and choreography even detracted from the story, as actors were stranded in the same spot to deliver a monologue that begged for movement, or repeated simple steps during the second chorus of a song that should have been elevated by the repetition.

HE SAID: Normally, I don’t mind simple staging. I tend to find shows as over staged, meaning they have extraneous blocking. However, because everything else was so simple – no interesting set or robust sound – the fact that the movement on stage was also very simple left me with nothing to get excited about.

THEY SAID: Overall, because of the small cast, meager space, and visibly limited budget, the production failed to tell a compelling story. We understand that in these tough economic times, theaters are drastically downscaling, and it’s a miracle that any small theatre can afford to pay the rights to produce musicals. However, there are several tools to help fill a stage that are cheap or free that were not utilized in this production. Part of successful musical theater at the community level is recognizing the limitations in resources, expertise and talent available to your company, and choosing shows that can be successful within those bounds.

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