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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Royally Good Show Awaits at
Village Theatre's The Gypsy King

The Gypsy King
Katherine Strohmaier and Eric Ankrim
One of the most unabashed crowd pleasers to be presented in any of Village Theatre's annual New Works Festival, Randy Rogel's spooferetta du jour The Gypsy King cried out to be moved to a full main-stage production after the reception accorded it in 2008. Now, after a further 2009 workshop, it is receiving a full throttle Village production, and raising howls of delight in a splendid and sumptuous staging, directed by musical comedy master Richard Gray, who also helmed the festival reading.

Though one might have wished for a few more tweaks in the show by the insanely talented Rogel, who supplied the book, music and lyrics (conceived and created with Kirby Ward), there is little to do but heap praise on the production itself and its multi-talented young comic leading man Eric Ankrim, whose work should carry him to Broadway any day now, whether in the roles he plays in The Gypsy King, or some other showcase vehicle. Ankrim is simply that good in a dream tour-de-farce dual role as the amiable, road-weary young actor Frederick and his double, the smarmy Prince Alfonse. Caught up in court intrigue, Frederick is disguised as the Prince who is abducted, and later assumed dead. The Prince's sister Anisette, though longing to hit the road and escape her royal life, falls for Erik as himself, then shuns him when, disguised as her brother, he tries for a kiss. Meanwhile, there is loads of plotting against both of Ankrim's characters by wannabe kingdom rulers and their thugs, while Erik's Dad and a royal lady in waiting named Marie conspire on behalf of the good guys and become accustomed to each other faces in private.

More than one person has called this piece the "Danny Kaye movie that never was" and that about sums it up. A few of Rogel's songs are just ok. The older couple's "Marriage" duet is charming but only mildly funny, while the erstwhile assassins Gielgud and Godfrey are saddled with "Ain't We Got Class," an intended belly buster which suffers next to the several songs it recalls (see Kander & Ebb's "Class" or Berlin's "A Couple of Swells"). At its best, though, Rogel's tunes are attractive ("I Don't Need Diamonds") and sometimes flat-out great ("The King is Back"), and book-wise he knows the territory he is spoofing like the back of his hand. He also is a lucky (and probably most happy) fella to have the cast and production team that is behind this production.

Ankrim, far more than in his game turn as Seattle Children's Theatre's recent  Peter Pan, is an airy, blithe presence, warmly goofy as Frederick and a preening monomaniacal monarch as the Prince, and he sings and dances like a dream. As Anisette, Seattle welcomes back the amazing and vibrant voiced Katherine Strohmaier, who keeps her plucky yet relatively "straight woman" role from getting lost amidst the band of zanies, and partners warmly with Ankrim. Richard Ziman further explores and embraces the musical-comedy side of his talents and is a sheer delight as the slithery Sergei, a man who would be king. Joanne Klein conjures up memories of Martha Raye as Marie, the all knowing lady in waiting, and she socks across the big "reveal" number "The Simple Truth" with robust relish, as well as being at ease with John Patrick Lowrie as her old-smoothie beau (and Frederick's papa) Leo. Nick De Santis and Mark Carr as bumbling baddies Godfrey and Gielgud are princely clowns, as is Jose J. Gonzales as the diminutive Prince Dijon. In smaller roles, Jessica Skerritt and Cayman Ilika (frequent leading ladies about town) are the essence of lovely luxury casting as Marguerite and Anastasia, Allen Galli turns a bit role as a Sea Captain and a Guard into a standout, and other worthy talents in the cast include Aaron C. Finley as the steadfast Drago, William A. Williams as several pixilated souls, and not to be forgotten, Casey A. Raiha in a yeoman turn as Ankrim's body double.

Choreographer Kathryn Van Meter shows why her local resume keeps expanding with a firm handle on staging the small, emotion-focused love songs with equal aplomb, as is demonstrated on her big, showy ensemble numbers like "Prince Dijon" and "The King is Back." Bruce Monroe created lush, Broadway-sized orchestrations for the small but swell Village pit band led with spirit by musical director/conductor R.J. Tancioco. Karen Ledger's costumes are one eye-popper after another, Jeffrey Cook's set is amazingly detailed and funny in its own right, and Alex Berry's lighting design is all you could ask for.

The Gypsy King is a show that deserves a long life in theatres everywhere, especially in times like these when we need all the rib-tickling we can get. Wherever he is, Danny Kaye is trying to figure out how to use this show as his ultimate comeback. I just know it.

The Gypsy King runs through April 25 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, $19-$59, and April 30-May 23 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett; $17-$52 (866-688-8049 or www.villagetheatre.org).


Photo by John Pai; Property of Village Theatre

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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