I certainly hope designer Richard Dennis has plenty of extra scenery stashed away somewhere on the Sundance Resort property.
As Mama Rose, a woman obsessed with turning her children into vaudeville stars, Karen Mason literally chews up the scenery.Some shows merely have performances. Sundance's "Gypsy," directed with consummate skill by Damien Gray, has what can only be described as knock-out bravura performances.
Gray has taken one of Broadway's sturdiest show-biz musicals and added several ingenius theatrical touches. His greatest coup, though, was luring Mason - who previously played Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" - to spend the summer in Utah playing one of the world's most notorious stage mothers.
Unlike Ethel Merman and Rosalind Russell, probably two of the best-known Roses, Mason is far closer to the real McCoy. (In real life, Rose Hovick was only in her 20s when she took her daughters, June and Louise, out on the American vaudeville circuit.) And Mason, who is slender and gorgeous, appears much more vulnerable than big and brassy Merman, creating a decidedly more sympathetic Mama.
"I hope you know what you're doing," a stage technician tells Rose near the end of the show, when she's caught up in the frenzy of Louise's first - and career-changing - solo performance at a rundown burlesque theater.
Actually, Rose has known for years exactly what she's doing.
Mason is surrounded by a stageful of superb, talented performers - notably Amy Ashworth Barrus as grown-up Louise, Ashley Jarrett as June, guest Equity artist Jeff Austin as Herbie and fleet-footed Taaga James (T.J.) Young as Tulsa. The latter is the lad who dares to defy Rose by not only leaving the act, but when he sings "All I Need Is the Girl," the girl he has in mind is Dainty June.
One of the show's most poignant moments is lonely Baby Louise singing "Little Lamb."
Among Gray's best touches is utilizing just one gifted player, John-David Keller, in multiple roles as the men in Rose's life. From hilariously portly Uncle Jocko to hotel proprietor Mr. Kringelein to Broadway booker Mr. Goldstone and even Rose's retired railroader father and a variety of others, the only attire he changes from role to role is his hats.
Other major performers include Adinah Alexander, who does triple-duty as not only Mazeppa (the stripper who'll "bump it with a trumpet") and Miss Cratchitt, secretary to the Ziegfeldian Mr. Grantsinger, but as an on-stage stage manager as well; Susan Hatfield as Tessie Tura, Teresa Bramwell as Electra and Laura Meuleman and Natalie Bradshaw as, respectively, Baby Louise and Baby June (the children's roles are double-cast).
Ryan T. Murphy leads the finely honed 16-piece live orchestra.
Keely Garfield's choreography maintained the show's appropriate vaudevillian look (and the burlesque numbers were handled quite tastefully).
James Scott's costumes, David Finn's lighting, Joseph S. Anderson's sound, Jennifer Rice-Llewelyn's hair designs and Richard Dennis' aforementioned scenery were all right on target.
Dennis deserves extra kudos for designing scenery that worked exceptionally well, considering the outdoor Eccles Stage's limitations.
Opening night included brief remarks by Robert Redford, who noted anecdotes from the Sundance Theatre's early years, and was bookended by receptions attended by Erik Lee Preminger, the son of Gypsy Rose Lee and filmmaker Otto Preminger, who returned on Sunday to present a compilation of his mother's home movies (see related story below).
- Sensitivity rating: Overall, this is a "family musical" about a dysfunctional family. There's nothing offensive. But it's a little long for younger children. Bring blankets and jackets. The benches are hard and the night air is chilly.