Loosely based upon the 1957 memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the fable known as Gypsyopened on Broadway in May, 1959. It was a breakthrough convergence of music & drama that legitimized Burlesque in the American Mainstream. By the vision it employed shining a spotlight upon the zeitgeist of aspiration for success; and the wry point-of-view it adopted towards the dizzying toll elicited upon one's personal life by the rapid escalation towards it, the rarefied air populated by the characters of this landmark musical are intoxicating.
Gypsyhas been referred to by numerous critics as the greatest of all American musicals. Noted theatrical critic Clive Barnes wrote that "Gypsy is one of the best of musicals" and described the character of Rose as "one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical”; while critic Frank Rich insightfully noted how Gypsy is “nothing if not Broadway's own brassy, unlikely answer to King Lear.”
With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; and a book by Arthur Larents, Gypsy of courses focuses on Rose, the mother of the famous striptease artist, who's name has become synonymous with “the ultimate show business mother.” It follows the dreams & efforts of Rose to raise two daughters to perform onstage and casts an affectionate eye on the hardships of show business life. And of course it contains those unforgettable songs that have become popular standards, including Everything's Coming up Roses, Let Me Entertain You, and Together (Wherever We Go).
Bringing a great work to the stage involves an equal amount of great energy & commitment on the part of all those involved with the production; and from April 25-28 and May 2-5th, the Bay City Players will showcase their own estimable talents by rendering their own portrayal of Gypsy to the stage for all theatrical fans of the Great Lakes Bay to enjoy.
For director Michael Wisniewski, whom has spent weeks dissecting the script of Gypsy, he whole-heartedly agrees with the critical assessment of Barnes, which pegs it as the 'greatest' of all musicals. “The book & music fit so well together and take the audience on a journey. You start with these young girls Baby June (performed by Betsy Miller) and Baby Louise (played by Delaney Wesolek) and move to their older counter parts, all driven by the ultimate stage mother Rose (performed by Laura Peil) and all the characters, including the sometimes over-looked Herbie (David Bowden) converge to provide a strong balance that make this a true American classic.”
“The music on its own is a knock-out,” continues Wisniewski, especially what I feel is one of the most astounding overtures in musical theatre history. This work has been a proven winner with audiences for decades, especially with songs such as Everything's Coming Up Roses and Rose's Turn, which have been performed by power-house leading ladies.”
When asked about the cast for this upcoming production of Gypsy, and what their biggest strengths are, Wisniewski quickly points that he has a great crew and an equally stunning cast that is large, rounding out at 29 members. “The show is written in a true vaudeville, burlesque style, taking the audience from the early '20s to the mid-30s. As the show progresses there are cast members who are in one or two scenes; and some who play multiple parts. All of the roles were difficult to cast to fit the performers' talents, and I couldn't have asked for a more talented cast. Their strengths are their commitment to the production, as well as to Bay City Players. They are our future!”
As for some of the components involved with this musical that make it resonate so strongly with audiences, Michael thinks it has stood the test of time well. “It's become one of the greatest musicals to come out of an era of blockbusters. And Gypsy is a standard-bearer. The audience identifies the musical as one of the Broadway classics, especially with so many legendary actresses that have tackled the lead role of Rose over the years - women like Ethel Merman, Angela Langsbury, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, and Patti Lupone.”
Does Michael feel it difficult to take such an established production that most audiences are familiar with through the 1962 film version and infuse fresh life and put their own 'signature' stamp upon? What are some of the challenges involved with a production of this nature; and what are some of the elements he is striving to focus upon as a director?
“There are many challenges when you're directing any production,” he reflects. “Whether it's a short play or a blockbuster as Gypsy. At one rehearsal one of my costumers asked how many lists I had to work with. There are many! The biggest challenge is taking a script and score, casting the characters, having all the elements you need such as set and set pieces, props, costumes, and pulling it all together so the production is attractive and interesting for the audience to watch. All in keeping to it's true form, as the production was originally written by Arthur Laurents.”
“Additionally, apart from having the book to deal with, musicals are always challenging because they bring music, dance, and singing into the mix. Putting them together is always a challenge, especially when the cast and orchestra come together for the first time to sing and dance every number. To me this is like lightning! We have a twenty piece orchestra under the direction of Sandy Honsinger. I have heard two of the rehearsals and man they could blow the roof off. It's interesting how modern musicals have changed in comparison to the classics, especially with orchestras. Gypsy was written in the traditional Broadway style, with a large amount of members. Of course technology has changed, making it easier to minimize the size of the orchestra. But this is incredibly important; and we're also fortunate to have Holly Haga Bills handling the choreography.”
Are there any insights or impressions Michael has gained into this work that reinforce his appreciation for it? “Well, first the book is very strong. It's based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee with so many wonderful characters especially “Rose” and “Herbie” and the romantic relationship they share in the production. I think many times this is overlooked, with such a strong character as “Rose” who literally carries the production. Second is the score. And who can beat music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim? I think what makes the musical exciting for the audience is not only watching the story unfold before their eyes, but the lush score that carries them thru the journey. There is an incredibly synergy at play here.”
“In addition to an outstanding cast, I have been blessed to have a very strong production crew behind me. They include Susan Ross: Assistant Director, Eileen Harrigan: Vocal Director in addition to the talents of Sandy and Holly. Without them there is no production, as the director is only one component. Also two ladies have been up to their ears with fabric, sequins and feathers: my costumers Cindy Moelter and Rhonda Branch who have the immense task of costuming the production.
“And to your readers: get your tickets, take your seats and enjoy the show!”
Gypsy plays at Bay City Players on April 25-28 and May 2-5. Tickets for Gypsy are $18.00 for seniors & students; $20.00 for adults. Performance times are 8:00 PM Thursday through Saturday and 3:00 PM Sunday. Box office opens Monday, April 22nd. Call 989-893-5555 or reserve tickets online at baycityplayers.com