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Gypsy: Around The Town Chicago

***** For many years, theater audiences have been thrilled by the magic of “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” which is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. Gypsy Rose Lee was a stripper, but one that was more seductive than sexy and in all of her years, never really stripped. In the musical fable with a book by Arthur Laurents and music by Jule Styne with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, we get to watch the story of the original stage mother, Rose (how fortunate to have Lucia Spina grace the stage of the Marriott Theatre in this role) who only wants stardom for her two daughters. As the story evolves, her true pick, Baby June (Elin Joy Seiler is adorable) is her “star to be” and sister Louis (Milla Liss) is her untalented daughter, who will later become the actual star of the story.

For those who do not know, Gypsy Rose Lee, was in fact a real person and she did have a sister, June, who after running away from Mama Rose, became June Havoc (a movie star who did many films and was even on TV’s “General Hospital”), so there may be some real truths in this wonderful musical “fable”.

Marriott’s brilliant production smoothly directed by Amanda Dehnert with great choreography by Stephanie Klemons is stunning and different as it is in-the-round, making sets far more difficult, but designer Collette Pollard has designed a set that works, and the opening scene during the overture, with its uniqueness, sets the stage for the entire production as we watch the marquee’s rise to the ceiling and the workers fill the stage in order to clear it when the overture is over. The lighting (Jesse Klug) and sound (Michael Daly) are near perfect and the costumes (Theresa Ham) are classical. Sally Zack, always right on with her props, does it again, and the wigs (there are a great number) by Megan E. Pirtle are perfect for doing their job. The tech part of a production is integral in making the production work and as always Marriott’s staff is up to the task.

Dehnert and her staff have put together a wonderful cast. In addition to the amazing Ms. Spina, playing her daughters (as adults are Tori Heinlein as June and Lauren Maria Medina as Louise/aka Gypsy. They are both very talented and Ms. Medina truly shines as the “stripper who never strips”. Herbie, the man who tries to make it all work is played to perfection by Nathaniel Stampley. He tries to bring life to these girls and get Mama Rose to stop being the pusher she is, but to no avail. She is indeed the true stage mother with no letting up. As we learn later in the show, she had many dreams and at one time her dream was to be the star of Vaudeville.

This show is strong on ensemble with a few individuals doing some special roles. This is a very strong group of actors who in some cases play many roles. For those who knew the show, the anticipation was high for the stripper song “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” where three individual strippers tell Louise that to be successful, she needs to find something different. These three characters are brought to life by Electra (Leeanna Rubin), Tessie Tura (Emily Rohm) and the incredible Mazeppa (Sawyer Smith). This number brought the house down. I anticipated a standing ovation for this number. It came close. These three actors are also members of the ensemble becoming other characters as needed.

The rest of the ensemble members are: J’Kobe Wallace (who is a brilliant Tulsa singing and dancing to “All I Need Is The Girl”) Cedric Young, Daryn Whitney Harrell, Christopher Kelley, Kevin Kulp, Steve O’Connell, Joseph Primes, Laura Savage, Ayana Strutz, Arik Vega, Annie Yokum, Jordan Helvie, Elliot Angsurat, Lucian Gutfraynd, Jojo Nabwangu, and the cuddly Chowsie played by Sir Reginald “Reggie”. Great work!

If you are unfamiliar with the musical numbers for this show, the list is amazing, “Let Me Entertian You”, “Small World", “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” “Together, Wherever We Go” and more. Og note is the final solo by Mama Rose, “Rose’s Turn”. Ms. Spina “nailed it” and hit notes that even Ethel Merman might have struggled for. Bravo!

The orchestra conducted by Brad Haak is 9 musicians who make it sound as if there is a full 24 piece orchestra in the pit. They are terrific.

This is Marriott at its best! Making a huge stage production work on their in-the-round-venue is the magic of what they have been doing over the many years since they opened this theater. They know how to bring classic big stage productions to their intimate stage.