Curtain up! Light the lights! Director Bill Osetek has worked magic with another American musical classic. Revered as more than simply a song-filled biography of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Laurents/Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim’s musical is also a page out of theatre history, from Vaudeville to Burlesque. And, along the way, some of Broadway’s most memorable characters come to life, not the least of which is Mama Rose, the prototype for all stage mothers. And in Osetek’s production, it’s the characters who stay with you, long after the final curtain.
Klea Blackhurst, best known to New York audiences for her award-winning musical homage to Ethel Merman (the original Mama Rose), brings strength and a touching vulnerability to her character. Where most actresses play Rose with over-the-top manic energy, Ms. Blackhurst taps into Mama’s insecurities and her unvoiced need for attention. Klea’s electrifying, pitch-perfect renditions of Rose’s classic numbers, from “Some People” and “Small World,” to “Together Wherever We Go,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and the cathartic “Rose’s Turn” would be enough to highly recommend this production, but there’s so much more.
Andrea Prestinario’s Louise/Gypsy is extraordinary. Like Mama, her loneliness and need for attention is mirrored in her eyes. During “All I Need Now is the Girl,” they express her unspoken adoration for Tulsa (the unbelievably talented Matthew Crowle) as he dances with his imaginary partner. Ms. Prestinario’s duets with Baby June (played to perfection by Andrea Collier) showcases both sisters’ frustrations with a mother whose drive is driving them crazy. David Kortemeier’s Herbie is as sweetly sincere and loving as Rose is blindly determined. There’s not a weak or insincere performance in this production, from the three hilarious strippers to the talented children. Drury Lane has truly become Chicago’s answer to Broadway with this production.