'Gypsy' bold and brash, but not as bright a TaDa!

Gordon Jones
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Theatre Review

Following "Cabaret," "Chicago" and "Cats," the latest TaDa! musical production opened Tuesday night at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre. "Gypsy" chronicles the career of Gypsy Rose Lee, one of two sisters who in the 1920s were groomed and pushed around the dying vaudeville circuits with second-rate acts by their stage-struck, won't-take-no-for-an-answer mamma (Natalie Noseworthy).

Blonde Baby June (first the tiny, ebullient Ellen Edwards, then the mature Sarah Small) finally gets married and gets a life.

Cast members of Gypsy are shown in this photo illustration. Submitted photo

Following "Cabaret," "Chicago" and "Cats," the latest TaDa! musical production opened Tuesday night at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre. "Gypsy" chronicles the career of Gypsy Rose Lee, one of two sisters who in the 1920s were groomed and pushed around the dying vaudeville circuits with second-rate acts by their stage-struck, won't-take-no-for-an-answer mamma (Natalie Noseworthy).

Blonde Baby June (first the tiny, ebullient Ellen Edwards, then the mature Sarah Small) finally gets married and gets a life.

Brunette, second-banana Louise (Nicole Butt, preceded by her younger self, played by Jessica Guy) stays with mamma on a futile quest for stardom. They finally stumble into burlesque fame and fortune, after learning the ropes from exotic strippers Tessie Tura (Dana Parsons), Mazeppa (Cassidy Quinton) and Electra (Sarah Loveys) - all of them hard cases, but with hearts of gold, of course.

If the story line seems a little familiar, it is because "Gypsy" derives its structure, techniques and sentiments from a hundred Hollywood movies about making it in Show Biz: about singing and hoofing while living out of suitcases in cheap hotels, about trains rushing across America - Seattle, Dallas, Akron, Buffalo, Wichita - until the Big Break finally comes in the Big Apple.

You know, those black and white movies on late-night TV that insomniacs watch in the wee small hours.

The musical score is brash and brassy by and large, but few of the tunes get under the skin, with the possible exception of "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

Most characters are two-dimensional and stereotyped, even more so than is generally the case in musicals. Dialogue is often stilted and banal.

Perhaps "Gypsy" does send up the vaudeville era from the perspective of 1959, but satirical send-up is effected by re-enactment and sentimental celebration of vaudeville hokum.

After the intermission, the second act picks up some energy and oomph with the arrival of the three trashy strippers, bumping and grinding through their routines and generating some spontaneous laughter and applause after the long first act. And Louise finally gets her break and her stardom as Gypsy Rose Lee, teasing and titillating her audiences with high-class routines, promising "We'll Have a Real Good Time."

Individual and ensemble performance of song and dance are of good quality, although dance numbers, while cheerful and sometimes colourful, are not as pyrotechnical as in TaDa's! previous productions.

The nub of the matter is that "Gypsy" is not in the same class, in terms of book, score, lyrics, and dance, as the three big C's - "Cabaret," "Chicago" and "Cats." TaDa! Events has raised the bar so far in the past several years that they have also taught us to recognize that a talented ensemble, full of sass and gusto, needs a fresher and more vital vehicle than "Gypsy."

Barbara Barrett, who directed the show 30 years ago was in the opening-night audience. She reported being criticized by women's groups and execrated from the pulpit because of the show.

All that bumping and grinding, I suppose.

Hard to believe anyone could take it so seriously.

Directed by Terri Andrews, with musical direction by Brian Way, choreography by Jill Dreaddy, set design by Shelley Cornick, and costuming by Barry Buckle, Cam Patey and Laurie Ann Griffin, the TaDa! Events production of "Gypsy" continues its run at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre until Sunday. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Organizations: Big Apple

Geographic location: Chicago, St. John's, Hollywood America Seattle Dallas Buffalo Wichita

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