Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Tacoma Little Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Also see David's review of Mamma Mia!

Stephanie Leeper and Jed Slaughter
Photo Courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre
The 1959 hit Broadway musical Gypsy is dubbed a "Musical Fable" and rightly so, as although it purports to tell the story of golden era burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee's childhood in vaudeville and career-making ascent into, well, stripping, it is first and foremost the tale of Rose Hovick, the mother of both Gypsy (Louise Hovick) and her younger sister June Havoc. As much of a gale force stage mother to end all as she was, Rose had a much more tawdry past and poor relationship with Louise and June than Laurents, composer Jule Styne, and rising lyricist Stephen Sondheim could have gotten produced in the '50s, even with Broadway superstar Ethel Merman in the role of Rose. The show has been revived on Broadway no fewer than four times, been done as both a movie and TV movie, and recently had a London production which recently aired on PBS. Puget Sound audiences haven't seen Gypsy since an impossibly misbegotten production at Seattle Musical Theatre a few years ago, but I am happy to report that Tacoma Little Theatre's pocket-sized but powerful production directed by Artistic Director Chris Serface is a real winner.

The story begins when Rose is marketing her blonde baby daughter June and shy younger sister in vaudeville in their hometown of Seattle. She hooks up with Herbie, a concessions salesman who joins forces with Rose in booking "Baby June and Her Newsboys" and her gentleman friend. After several years as vaudeville is breathing its last gasp, the now "Dainty" June runs off with a dancer in the act. Rose tries to remake Louise into a vaudeville star, but a last hurrah booking at a house of burlesque allows her to push the re-dubbed Gypsy Rose Lee into the career that would define her.

As Rose was written for Merman (the last Broadway role she created) the role demands brassy vocal skills, stamina, personality plus, and in the best case scenario, solid acting chops. TLT has the sensational Stephanie Leeper, who delivers such classics as "Some People," "Small World," and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" with such ease and finesse that she makes it seem a less daunting task than it is. Leeper is comic, endearing, overbearing, and even frightening as this driven lady, and her "Rose's Turn" allows from some classic bump and grind moments to go into the mix. This is a performer doing the right role, at the right time, and she gives Rose the heart to keep her from becoming unendurable. As Louise/Gypsy, Cassie Jo Fastabend is a bit wooden in her early scenes, but from the moment act two starts and the character starts to stand up to her mama Rose, she is aces. Her "Let Me Entertain You" strip montage grows and builds to perfection, and her confrontation with Leeper's Rose once she has risen to stardom is a bout worthy of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

As Herbie, Jed Slaughter has a youthful baby face but measures up to Leeper's Rose handily as they go from courtship to disillusion, and he, Leeper, and Fastabend add great levity to the generally more somber second act, in the trio "Together (Wherever We Go)." Julia Wyman brings street smarts and sass to her Dainty June, and sparkles in her song and dance moments, particularly "If Momma Was Married" with Fastabend. Rico Lastrapes makes a suitable Tulsa, the boy June runs off to marry, and has the moves and pizazz for his solo "All I Need Is the Girl." And as the trio of strippers who convince Gypsy "You Gotta Have A Gimmick," Kathy Kluska as ballet stripper Tessie Tura stands out, but Emilie Rommel-Shimkus as Mazeppa the gladiator stripper, and Caiti Burke as the suitably named Electra deliver the goods as well. There are also nice comic cameos by Jill Heinecke as Amanda, and the versatile Joe Woodland in several small roles.

Debra Leach's musical direction of the cast is fine, though the pre-taped instrumental tracks removed the spontaneity and freedom from many numbers. Lexi Barnett's choreography is indebted to the Jerome Robbins original in a good way. Blake R. York's scenic design is simple and spot on, cleverly featuring the many theatre venues in the story, with a video monitor to help us keep track of the act's destinations from vaudeville to burlesque. Michele Graves' costumes read show-biz from beginning to end, and this show has lots of 'em. I got to this production later in its run, and cannot think of a better show to recommend as they finish it out this weekend.

Tacoma Little Theatre Gypsy through Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 210 N. I St, Tacoma, WA. Friday and Saturday showings are at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. This show is recommended for ages 12 and up. For tickets and info go to

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