Anyone expecting the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim musical "Gypsy" to be dated with weak one-dimensional characters and a toxic stage mother will be pleasantly surprised at Chesapeake Music Hall's version.
This 1959 show has attained classic status over its 42 years because it has a great score and interesting characters.
"Gypsy" is the autobiography of Gypsy Rose Lee, who added grace and style to striptease and elevated burlesque to popular acceptance. In her lifetime, she became a celebrity long before the Broadway musical transformed her into a legend more than a decade before her death in 1970.
Lee was born Rose Louise Hovick in 1914 in Seattle. "Gypsy" concentrates on Louise's early years and the influence of her mother Mama Rose. It is the story of an ambitious stage mother who didn't want a humdrum life for herself or her daughters and sought magic through vaudeville.
This is how Chesapeake Music Hall dinner theater plays it, far from the dark tale it often becomes. Through a sharp sense of style, the director-choreographer transforms what could become interminable kiddy-act scenes into comic moments of deliberately clumsy dance, breathing new life into hokey numbers - "Baby Rose and the News Boys" and "Dainty June and her Farmboys." The kids - especially June and Louise - are spunky, and Mama Rose is not the dark, selfish, snarling, character sometimes depicted.
Having played Dolly in "Hello, Dolly!" and Mame in "Mame," Sherry Kay Anderson, with this Mama Rose, completes the trio of characters she has most wanted to play. Anderson is a physically imposing woman, who easily dominates every scene, and her Mama Rose is a formidable stage mother - a mother who is ambitious for her daughters but whose ambition is mixed with warmth and love.
Although bothered by a cold on opening weekend, Anderson managed to invest each song with exactly the right emotions. She belted out a triumphant "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and delivered an unforgettable "Rose's Turn" that for her many admirers became a sensational "Sherry's Turn" that stopped the show.
The supporting cast is strong.
As Louise, Mandy Lamb proves to be a fine actor and strong singer and dancer in her Music Hall debut. Lamb invests her character with a sweet innocence as she strives to please her mother, delivering a touching "Little Lamb" where she ponders how old she really is. Later, after she becomes a star, Lamb as Louise displays enough quiet strength to hold her own with Rose in the big confrontational scene.
As Louise's grown-up sister June, Katy Smith proves an equally skilled actor, and she dances up a storm. In the dance department, Joe Rose returns to the Music Hall as Tulsa whose "All I Need is The Girl" tops any I've seen. Charlie Rogers is appealing as Rose's boyfriend Herbie, delivering in a climactic scene a wrenching goodbye to Rose, and he sings so well that I wished the song "Together" had offered him a few more bars.
That's an amazing feat when we consider that owner and general manager Anderson nearly does it all as the show's producer, director, choreographer, costume and set designer and star.
"Gypsy" continues at Chesapeake Music Hall on weekends and some Wednesdays through April 22. The theater is on Busch's Frontage Road, along U.S. 50 in Annapolis.
Ticket orders: 410-626-7515 or 800-406-0306.