2nd Star Production's 'Gypsy' turns it on and takes it off

For Laurel Leader

Bowie-based 2nd Star Productions’ current run of “Gypsy,” the classic musical adapted to stage from the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, offers a delightful trip down memory lane for fans of American musical theater.

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “Gypsy” opened on Broadway in 1959, snagging eight Tony Awards nominations before touring nationally on the way to a London West End opening more than a decade later.

Set in the 20th century during the last days of vaudeville, “Gypsy” has swept numerous nominations and awards for stage productions across the world in the past 60 years.

Produced here by Joe Biddle and expertly directed by Ron Giddings (with stellar music direction and choreography by Trevor Greenfield and Jamie Erin Miller), “Gypsy” typifies why 2nd Star Productions has received numerous Washington Area Theater Community Honors awards.

Exceptional vocal and dance performances of iconic songs considered to be musical theater standards capture the audience from the moment the lights rise in 1922 until the show’s end in 1937.

Giddings’ well-rehearsed cast (in spot-on costumes by Beth Terranova) and crew are fully up to the challenge of performing a book musical that integrates rich storytelling and complex characters into a musical play.

Out of sight beneath the stage, Greenfield (conductor), leads the orchestra at just the right volume.

The lights rise on an attractive set designed by Jane E. Wingard and Bill Fellows. Consisting of lovely painted faux wood paneling with wooden tables and chairs stacked upstage, it conjures a backstage vaudeville feel from the time when Rose Louise (Madeline McComb as Baby Louise) performed in the shadow of her sister, June (Jillian Sank as Baby June).

As their “brick house” stage mother, standout Barber-Eaton is appearing with 2nd Star for the first time.

Zoe Smith and Lindsey Litka take over as June and Louise after the first reprise of “Let Me Entertain You” in Act 1, when lighting effects designed by Garret Hyde steal the audience’s breath as a glitzy curtain drops and the time jumps to 1928, and the company’s full tech and visual design magic kicks in for the rest of the show.

Onstage, Marty Hayes (Pop), Jim Reiter (Herbie), Zac Brightbill (Tulsa), Rowena Winkler (Electra), Tami Howie (Tessie Tura) and Kylie Sjolie (Mazeppa) shine in the primary roles.

As Rose’s smitten, misused paramour and the girls’ agent, Reiter, as Herbie, delivers savvy song-and-dance as well as a genuine character who cares deeply for the trio. He and Barber-Eaton create particularly sweet chemistry in “Small World.” “Together Wherever We Go,” performed by Herbie, Rose and Louise, is charming, too.

In Act 1, Brightbill’s “All I Need is the Girl” is one of many vocal and dance standouts.

The Janes (Sank, Smith) and the Gypsys (Howard, Litka) also sing, dance and act beautifully.

In Act 2, Litka exudes a wealth of emotions, at times without saying or singing a word (such as when her crush elopes with Jane) along the journey to becoming a believable, yet still sympathetic Gypsy Rose Lee.

As the strippers, Winkler, Howie and Sjolie rock their eye-popping burlesque costumes and deliver wonderful physical comedy to what is, at times, a sad story. As different as night and day, their performance of “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” is a hoot.

Then there is Barber-Eaton as Rose, who kills playing a uniquely complex character with gangbuster vocals. Her performance of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” at the end of Act 1 is a showstopper; as is “Rose’s Turn,” a dark tearjerker that reveals her inner demon at show’s end.

Sometimes, the most compelling entertainment comes from real life. And 2nd Star’s tasteful performance of the story of “Gypsy” does justice to what many believe is the greatest American musical.

"Gypsy" continues through June 29 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive. Performances are 3 p.m. Sundays; and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a special 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, June 29. General admission $22, students/seniors $19, and $12 for children younger than 12. For tickets, go to 2ndstarproductions.com or call 410-757-5700.

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