The Original “Dance Mom”: A Review of “Gypsy” at Marriott Theatre
The television show “Dance Moms” gained popularity for featuring overbearing mothers obsessed with their child’s (re: their) dreams of grandeur and stardom, but none of these ladies hold a candle to the mom in Marriott Theatre’s “Gypsy.” Move over Maddie Ziegler. Step aside Abby Lee Miller. Rose Hovick is in town!
Rose (Lucia Spina) is the ultimate stage mom. With two daughters in tow—the cute-as-a-button Baby June (Elin Joy Seiler) and introverted Young Louise (Milla Liss)—they navigate the dwindling vaudeville circuits, chasing a dream and a paycheck.
After a kindhearted talent agent falls in love with Rose (and she ostensibly with him), the now-adult June (Tori Heinlein) receives a spike in her career while Louise (Lauren Maria Medina) mourns for a more stable life. After landing a spot on the venerable Orpheum circuit, the family with a troupe of young men (that they pick up… somehow?), “Dainty June and her Farmboys,” traverse the country, begging audiences to “Let Me Entertain You,” the same act they performed as kids.
But they are no longer kids. In the throes of adulthood, June runs away with “Farmboy” Tulsa (J’Kobe Wallace) leaving Rose no other option—except to marry Herbie and settle down—but to force Louise into the spotlight as a burlesque stripper, leading to her transformation into the sexpot Gypsy Rose Lee.
Half the fun comes from psychoanalyzing Rose, whose character is played larger than life by Spina with a singing voice to match. She obviously loves her daughters, yet she sabotages any opportunity beneficial to them that might take them away from her. She appears to love Herbie, singing “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” yet balks at his marriage proposals and a life outside of show business, ignoring the desire for stability espoused by her children (“If Mama Was Married”).
Much like the matriarchs of “Dance Moms,” it’s less about her children and more about her. She admits as much in the song “Some People,” where she sings: “Some people can be content, playing bingo and paying rent. That’s peachy for some people. For some hum-drum people to be… But some people ain’t me!” With this knowledge, every decision she makes regarding June and Louise induces moments of cringe and disgust; but when Rose/Spina flashes a wide smile and belts out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” with that powerful voice, you, too, would follow her to the ends of the Earth.
The music and lyrics written for the 1959 Broadway production still hold up. Compositions by Jule Styne oscillate between syrupy sweetness and jubilant bounciness indicative of the mid-century book musical. Stanzas by Stephen Sondheim are as you expect, quick-witted and with a saltatorial cadence. Besides Spina’s fantastic performance as Rose, Heinlein as June captures the squeakiness of her juvenile counterpart, and Medina’s transformation from humble Louise into sexy Gypsy Rose Lee is believable and satisfying.
Other elements range from pretty good to meh. Set design amounts to a few boxes and a desk placed in different areas; but, under the direction of Amanda Dehnert, beneath an overhead, floating border of lights, the actors make use of the full area of the stage. Dance choreography by Stephanie Klemons is run-of-the-mill musical theater—in-the-trenches, the ‘ol soft shoe, barrel turns—especially the tap dancing, made more lackluster in comparison to the surprisingly good hoofing found in regional theater productions like Metropolis Performing Arts’ “Xanadu” and Music Theatre Works’ “The Producers.”
Psychological complexity juxtaposed over an exuberant soundtrack performed adeptly by a topnotch cast—including some very talented youths!—makes the show’s runtime go by in no time at all. If you want to see the original “Dance Mom,” then turn off the TV and head over to Marriott’s “Gypsy,” full of showstoppers that you wish would never stop.