There is no more coveted role in musical theater than that of Mama Rose, the single-minded stage mother who serves as the gravitational center of “Gypsy.”
In MusicalFare Theatre’s season-opening production of the musical loosely based on the early life of burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, Loraine O’Donnell takes her long-awaited turn as Rose.
The result is a tentative performance still in development, which does not reach its potential until the final song. Before that crystalline moment of rage and defeat, director Chris Kelly offers a pleasant and medium-stakes “Gypsy” that hits the right emotional chords but rarely strikes them hard enough.
On comedy, as usual, Kelly and his cast bring the goods. The 1959 show, with a score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, is regarded by many as an exemplar of the form. It’s partly a requiem for vaudeville and partly a psychological study on the crippling effects of ambition, especially when paired with a misguided belief in one’s own talent.
There’s plenty of talent on display at MusicalFare, however. As Baby Rose, 12-year-old Faith Walh brings the audience to tears with her saccharine performances of “Let Me Entertain You.” As a trio of washed-up strippers, Michele Marie Roberts, Maria Droz and Charmagne Chi each slay in their way. John Fredo brings the requisite pathos to Rose’s longtime suitor Herbie.
As the title character, Marina Laurendi executes the comic bits – playing the butt-end of a cow, for instance – with all the calibrated timing of a vaudeville pro. And after she undergoes her metamorphosis from Louise into Gypsy Rose Lee, she owns the stage.
Frequent tempo issues mar Theresa Quinn’s music direction, which sometimes gives the impression that the band is racing to finish each song against some imaginary competitor. Styne’s beautifully wrought songs, Stephen Sondheim’s devastating lyrics and the actors who deliver them deserve more room to breathe. Without it, much of the charm, intelligence and emotional power of the musical gets lost in impatient flurries of notes.
If this issue is resolved and the star settles into her own rhythm, this “Gypsy” could go from pleasant to pristine.