The Ocean State Theatre in Warwick is reviving one of the big musical hits of the 1950s, “Gypsy,” a story about family, show business and the life of the striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. Bill Gale says that despite some problems “Gypsy” is still worth seeing, one more time.
That's right. For you see “Gypsy” is one of those musicals you could call a “But, still . . .” piece of work.
Yes, it is too long, overdrawn, a show that tells you something, and then goes on to tell it again and again. Lasting close to three hours including an intermission, it concerns an overbearing, ever-so-needy single mother and her two long suffering daughters. They fight their way through the Great Depression of the 1930s, among other things. All of this can be interminable.
Points are made again and again. Vaudeville shtick is shown, again and again.
Mama Rose and daughters June and Louise tell a story, and then tell it again.
And here's where “But still" . . . comes in.
But, still, despite all this clutter, “Gypsy” maintains the power, the offering of empathy, to make it worth seeing. There are many notable songs, sweet songs, love songs, funny songs, goofy songs composed by that 1950s staple, Jule Styne, with lyrics by a newcomer, called Stephen Sondheim.
And, in the end, “Gypsy” provides a look at life that can still be very real today. After all, it's main theme concerns a “single” mother and her travails. These can be easily seen again and again in our times, but were something rarely remarked upon back in the booming post-war 1950s.
At Ocean State all of this does, finally, come through. At times, this production seems like an almost never-stopping shouting match. Mama Rose shouts. The girls do, too. The secondary players add to it. It's all too much loudness.
But, still . . . in the end, the production, starring artistic director Amiee Turner as Mama Rose, finds the mark, lets you see the humanity behind the noise.
If you remember “Gypsy” at all, you'll know about “Rose's Turn” the final number, the big heart breaker. In this production Turner, a tall woman, seems to shrink before your eyes as she sings about her life, and by extension the lives of many. She rails at her problems, at herself, and, finally, admits that after decades of proudly saying she did it all for the kids, admits she did for herself.
It's the biggest strip in this musical about strippers and Turner makes it work, makes you see the guts of Rose and her family.
Playing Gypsy Rose Lee, Kristin Wetherington finds many sides to a stripper who finally becomes her own woman. She's particularly fine in the song called “Little Lamb” where she decries her lost childhood. As June (who later became the actress June Havoc ) Juliette Sallaway is strong, too.
And the veteran Christopher Swan is rock solid as Rose's suitor who, finally, finds her too much to deal with. There's also lots of fun with lots of kids whose shenanigans over ride some of the overbearing moments.
In the end, then, “Gypsy” is often too much of a good thing. But, still . . . there's something there that's worth seeing, and thinking about.
“Gypsy” continues at the Ocean State Theatre in Warwick through August 2nd.
Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.