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Review: ‘Gypsy’ goes straight for the heart at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire

Here in the last days of summer, amid reams of bad news about the state of the American theater, the good old Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has knocked out a terrific, reasonably priced staging of “Gypsy,” an unstinting and emotionally unsettling new production that leans into this great American masterpiece’s psychological underpinnings.

I feel qualified to speak for those of us who have seen 50 or more productions of this show and always wonder if the latest is worth the drive or the train or the effort, the brilliance of the Arthur Laurents book and Jule Styne score notwithstanding. This one most certainly offers real rewards. Of the heart.

You worry hard here for Madame Rose, disappointed in life and love. And you sure as heck feel for June and Louise, the two daughters who must deal with the stage mother from Hades.

The director Amanda Dehnert has helmed a kinetic “Gypsy,” by which I mean that she makes the musical move at a fast pace, constantly informed by high emotional stakes. That has a lot to do with Collette Pollard’s counterintuitive set — the most daring design at this theater-in-the-round in years — and even more to do with a cast stacked with top-drawer performers with Broadway credits.

Lauren Maria Medina, who plays Louise, keeps her eye on one thing above all: her character’s desire to be seen by her mother. And so, in the scenes where Louise finds Lucia Spina’s Rose intolerable, and there are those scenes, she shows us the kind of rebellion that is about as sturdy as a twig. All Rose has to do is clap her hands and Louise is right back in the place she takes two and a half hours to find out she does not want to be. Medina’s listening skills are what make her performance.

If you’re a fan of the score (and who is not?), you’ll enjoy hearing both Spina and Medina interpret the music. Spina’s Rose is very much in the Patti LuPone school in that the performance has power and guts and absolutely none of the protective sheen of showbiz you often see in your common or garden Rose. Not here. Dehnert clearly wanted to show that Rose is one step up from ruin at all times, and Spina not only makes you believe that crisis is always imminent, but that here is a woman for whom the lack of such crises would mean the loss of her central life force.

Which brings me to Herbie, played by Nathaniel Stampley, who wants to be that center but cannot be. Herbie often is a foil or a stooge; not in Stampley’s hands. His Herbie is substantial in every way and so, throughout the show, you’re always aware of the prize that Rose makes Rose pay.

Add in some terrific cameos, whether that’s the incomparable Emily Rohm as Tessie Tura (et al.) or the spectacular Elin Joy Seiler as Baby June (that girl does it all), and you have a banquet of rich Laurents characters who play out the show’s central conflict between those who know themselves and those who would rather be ignorant. Tori Heinlein is unstintingly cynical as the older June, even as J’Kobe Wallace’s Tulsa tends to the show’s hopeful attitude toward risk and escape, teaching Louise the tools to get out.

“Gypsy” is one of those shows that always seems to speak to the moment — and your critic, feeling the pangs of a newly empty nest, was right there with Rose’s eventual craving to roll back time.

No can do. Might as well just light the lights.

“Gypsy” (3.5 stars)