ALBAN, N.Y. --Capital Repertory Theatre’s smartly conceived and executed production of "Gypsy" begins with a slender column of a raven-haired woman-- clothed in an elegant gold-colored evening gown, a mink stole draped around her shoulders -- standing off to one side of the stage. A faded proscenium frames a rich red curtain. A ghostlight stands just right of center stage. And then, as the band --two pianos, percussion and bass -- strikes up the first chords of "Gypsy’s" grand overture from its perch above the stage, there is movement. The stage crackles with activity (beautifully choreographed by Freddy Ramirez) as singers, stagehands, musicians, dancers -- theater gypsies -- go about their business. The woman, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee (Kelsey Crouch), retreats to the steps of a winding backstage staircase and looks on. All at once, "Gypsy" is cast within the framework of memory, which, perhaps, is only fitting for a musical inspired by a memoir.
The theater is a steady presence. Its bones -- the brick wall the winding stairs, exit doors -- hover in the shadows of stage light. As scenes shift from one locale to the next, various performers, in true vaudeville fashion, parade across the stage apron holding handmade signs that tell us where the characters are.
This not only is theater as theater, it is theater as life -- the life of a shy, gawky girl who became a first-magnitude star of burlesque, a celebrity in every way; pushed and dragged to the threshhold by an indomitable force-of-nature of a mother, Rose, and once there becomes her own creation. And that does not sit well with Rose, played by Mary Callanan in a driving, galvanic performance that captures Rose in all her colors and dimension - from touchingly human to horrifying and monstrous, never more so than in "Everything’s Coming Up Roses," a number which, within the context of this production, shows just how consumed Rose is. This woman will not be denied until, late in the game, during "Rose’s Turn," she comes to the realization that she -- not her daughters June or Louise -- has been the center of her raw ambition and that it is time, she says with rueful dawning, that "mama’s gotta let go."
In a show in which music and text are tightly bound, Mancinelli-Cahill’s cast finds added dimension and insight in the musical numbers, especially Rose’s fiercely determined "Some People"; the engaging duet, "You’ll Never Get Away From Me," between Rose and the decent, pragmatic, loving patience-challenged man in her life, Herbie (played by an at-times too phlegmatic Bob Walton); the affecting "Little Lamb" sung by Teen Louise (a touching and appealing Cara O’Brien) and Gypsy; the captivating Rose-Herbie-Louise trio "Together Wherever We Go"; and the sublimely comedic "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," Louise’s first lesson in the art of burlesque, performed by the endearing LoriAnn Freda as the balletic Tessie Tura, a richly sassy Hillary Parker as the brassy (in more ways than one) Mazeppa, and Benita Zahn as the electrified Electra.
Crouch convincingly charts Louise’s transformation from gawky third fiddle to a woman who reinvents herself in ways in which even Mama Rose could never anticipate.
"Gypsy" stands tall among American musicals. Given this never-less-than-good-at-times-transcedent production, you can understand why.