Arts Club Theatre Company

Gypsy: A Musical Fable
Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Book by Arthur Laurents

Dates 10 May – 8 July 2007, 8pm Venue Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage Reviewer John Jane

One of the all-time favourite musicals, Gypsy: A Musical Fable, opened Wednesday evening at The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage and provided its audience with a taste of Vaudeville at its height and its lowest depth. The old girl is now in its fiftieth year and starting to show her age - but perhaps that is where Gypsy's real charm lies.

Adapted by Arthur Laurents from the memoirs of Rose Louise Hovick, with songs by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim; Gypsy is essentially Rose Thompson Hovick’s story, who became infamous as the quintessential stage mother. ‘Mama’ Rose was obsessively driven in projecting her two daughters, Louise the oldest, born in Seattle and June, born in Vancouver (BC) into successful theatrical careers, regardless of their own wishes.

Barbara Barsky showed some of the fierce commitment of her character in pushing aside an allergic reaction to give a powerhouse performance as the inveterate matriach. She is on stage for almost the entire performance and takes the lead in many of the songs - including the optimistic show-stopper, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and the happy-go-lucky, "Together Wherever We Go."

If Ms Barsky was good as Mama Rose, then Lauren Bowler is outstanding in the title role. Deliberately demure as the young Louise, she is suddenly transformed from the self-doubting vaudevillian into the poised, Queen of Burlesque, Gypsy Rose. Alas, in characterizing Gypsy’s enigmatic change, Bill Millerd’s direction fell behind Ms Bowler’s talent. This sequence, near the end of the show could have been given better production value.

Barbara Barsky and Lauren Bowler get strong support from a large talented cast. Andrew Wheeler is perfectly understated as the troup’s faithful agent and Mama Rose’s too-loyal suitor. Melissa Young does everything that is expected of her in the role of sister June. Likewise, North Vancouver teacher, Carolyn Bergstrand as genial burlesque entertainer, Tessie Tura takes the opportunity to show off her natural comic timing; along with Irene Karas and Jackée Guilou she earns a bunch of laughs with their rollicking routine, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick."

Bruce Kellett's six-piece band sets up the mood perfectly with the Overture, a medley of the show’s best known songs and continued throughout with stellar accompaniment. Ted Roberts provides a unique set for every scene (I counted at least a dozen)

Vaudeville might never again be a popular option in live entertaiment, but Gypsy will return again and again, if, like this Arts Club mounting it can offer superb acting and singing, clever direction and excellent production.

© 2007 John Jane