By John Lyle Belden
It’s regarded as the story of the ultimate “stage mom,” a helicopter parent from before those birds were invented. “Gypsy,” based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee and her relationship with her Mama Rose, is at Footlite Musicals through May 22.
We meet Rose and young daughters Baby June and Louise as the girls sing and dance for a Seattle talent show. But Mama’s ambitions run much higher, getting an act centered on June – with lesser-talented Louise blended in with backup boys – on the vaudeville circuits all the way to Broadway. But as the girls grow up and vaudeville fades (weakened by the “talkies” and Depression before its eventual demise at the feet of TV), Rose keeps pushing despite the odds, famously declaring “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
The word “awesome” is so overused in this era, but is the most appropriate adjective for Susan Boilek Smith as Rose. She inhabits this tiger mom with claws out all the way, making us feel for her and root for her, even when her ways seem too overbearing or her fast-talk borders on grift. Fortunately, Rich Baker is well able to keep up as Rose’s longsuffering companion, Herbie.
A quick salute to Rogue Salyers as Baby June and Brynn Elliott as little Louise, a good start to hopefully long careers or avocation on stage. After a strobe-lit time transition, Stacia Ann Hulen excellently slips in as Dainty June.
Elise Annette Delap plays teen/adult Louise, barely able to keep her immense talent under the facade of her “untalented” character. (Playing a skilled seamstress who eventually found international fame on the burlesque stage, perhaps she wasn’t so lacking after all.) Her strong portrayal matches well with Smith as a force of nature, revealing that this is the story of two women, each strong and wonderful in her own way.
As for the supporting cast, it’s a pity that Noah Nordman as chorus-boy Tulsa only gets one song.
As those familiar with the musical know, the title “Gypsy” refers to the life Rose, Herbie and the kids live in their pursuit of fame, as well as the blossoming Gypsy Rose that Louise becomes. We meet strippers in the “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” scene, and Delap as Lee does a little “teasing,” but there’s no real nudity, keeping this largely an all-ages show.
Footlite Musicals is in the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., just north of downtown Indy. Call 317-926-6630 or see footlite.org.
(Review also posted at The Word)