At the risk of repeating myself, I will say again that I go to EVERY theatrical production, professional or amateur, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Most the time, I am. Friday evening, I was not.
It was opening night for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Gypsy,” the much-revived musical based on the memoirs of actress/author/ecdysiast (aka stripper) famous in the 1930s and ‘40s as Gypsy Rose Lee.
First on Broadway in 1958, the Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents work starred Ethel Merman as the prototype stage mother who drove her children to stardom whether they wanted it or not. “Gypsy” has returned to Broadway four times since the original, with the role of Mama Rose interpreted by Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone. The 1962 film miscast Rosalind Russell as the dragon matriarch and Bette Midler was equally unsuitable in the 1993 TV production.
It is a story of the frequently seamier side of show biz, which should by no means be a signal to present a shabby, shoddy or embarrassingly unready production. Unfortunately, that is what greeted the opening night audience.
The burden for this unhappy concoction lies squarely at the feet of director/choreographer Quinton McMutuary, with some of the blame to be shouldered by music director Conner Michael Stigner.
It’s difficult to point to one faction of the production as the primary culprit. The actors hopefully were doing their best. It was up to those in charge to see that the very sloppy production was sharp and pulled together throughout the almost three hour running time. Flailing arms and legs passed for choreography and it did not help that the four huge double-sided panels which served to denote scenic changes could not turn from black to red (or vice versa) without obvious help from several stage hands. Never mind the stand-alone doors that refused to stay shut or the costumes that were unflattering at best or . . . tust too many gaffes to mention. It is the director’s job to catch these errors and eliminate or repair them before the audience takes their seats. It is a job that was not done, at least not by Friday evening.
The orchestra, which is still the part of a musical production for which there is no viable place in this auditorium, sat above the stage and was visible almost throughout, with attire being obviously individual choice. It was blaringly intrusive and seemed to function on the theory that it was there to drown out the singers rather than support and accompany them.
Soldiering on, community theater veteran Jenny DeDario never wavered in the incredibly demanding role of Rose. On stage in almost every scene, she frequently won the orchestra battle but didn’t do so well in the costume wars. Daughter Louise, who becomes Gypsy, was played by an unusually stolid Alex Pote.
SBCT man for all roles Steve Chung delivered a very human and very likable Herbie, the candy salesman whose unwavering support of Rose and her girls is almost indestructible. To prove there are no small roles, Debbie Rarick created two entirely different characters with the flick of an accent as a producer’s secretary and a French maid.
There is an unusual number of actors and stage crew of all ages involved in this production. I congratulate them. They did their best.
“GYPSY” plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and May 9-10, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and May 11-12 and 3 p.m. Sunday and May 13 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium at 403 N. Main St. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.