Theater lovers pick the shows they see for so many different reasons. Maybe they want to experience the latest Broadway hit. Or maybe they’re up for revisiting an old favorite. The company and its track record can sell tickets. So can the casting of certain actors.
In the case of Gypsy at Stage Door Theatre in Margate, that last reason is the most compelling one.
Oh, the production certainly has issues, including the fact that the actors sing to music tracks that seem to turn on and off abruptly, the set looks as if it would blow over in a strong wind, and some of the performances are no better than so-so.
But Stage Door’s Gypsy also has its assets, including a particularly magnificent one: the presence of Ann Marie Olson in the role of Mama Rose.
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The 1959 musical, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Style and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, tells the story of how a girl born Rose Louise Hovick became burlesque artist-actress Gypsy Rose Lee. The juiciest part, though, belongs to the performer playing Gypsy’s driven, tunnel-vision mother Rose. Ethel Merman originated the part, and Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone have followed in Merman’s brassy Broadway footsteps.
Olson is certainly on the younger side as far as Roses go, but at the beginning of the musical, the character is trooping around the country with the young daughters she bills as Baby June (Lola McClure) and Baby Louise (Zoe McClure). Rose has turned her will of iron to the task of making Baby June a vaudeville star. The shy Baby Louise? She gets to play boy parts and make the costumes.
Rose is an emotional steam roller, the ultimate stage mother. She loves her girls, yes, and she depends on the act’s manager, her beau Herbie (played at Stage Door by a warmly wonderful Matthew Korinko). But what Rose loves most, to the detriment of every other relationship in her life, is the spotlight.
Her psyche and drive are laid bare early on in the song Some People. You’ll Never Get Away from Me, a Rose-Herbie duet, is an ode to what might have been, had Rose not been so laser focused on showbiz success; Together Wherever We Go underscores the same idea. Everything’s Coming Up Roses is Rose’s rousing song of defiance, as one daughter abandons her and she refocuses her relentless ambition on the other.
And, of course, there’s Rose’s Turn. The showstopping final number in Gypsy is a nervous breakdown in song, a woman finally facing — or at least allowing herself a glimpse of — her true nature and motivation.
Olson, a Carbonell Award-winning actor, can belt with the best of ’em. But her powerful voice is also beautiful and nuanced, as is her acting. Whenever she’s onstage, which is fortunately most of the time, Stage Door’s Gypsy is the richer for it.
Director Dan Kelley and choreographer Chrissi Ardito have worked hard to weave a cast with varying abilities into a cohesive bunch, with only partial success. The kids in the show are just OK (though that’s likely the caliber of act Rose would have been pushing), as are most of their adult counterparts and some of the grownup actors who play multiple roles.
In addition to the standard-setting work by Olson and Korinko, the best performances in the show come from Erica Rose Mendez as the grownup June and Kelly Ziegler as Louise (though she’s more effective in her scenes as the reluctant “star” than she is as Gypsy Rose Lee); Brian Dirito as June’s boyfriend Tulsa; and Christina Groom, Stephanie Genovese and Ellie Pattison as the comic strippers Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie Tura.
Despite the best efforts of the artists involved, Stage Door’s Gypsy is not a memorable production of an American musical classic. But Olson’s turn as Mama Rose is most definitely worth seeking out.
If you go
What: ‘Gypsy’ by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.
Where: Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Margate.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, through Jan. 3.
Information: 954-344-7765 or www.stagedoortheatre.com.