Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The role of the quintessential showbiz mother, Rose, has been filled by genuine stars such as Ethel Merman, Tyne Daley, Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, and Patti LuPone. Goodspeed goes with Judy McLane who has significant credits on and off Broadway. She is more than capable, every bit a talented professional yet (and this works wonderfully) she neither demands nor absorbs the spotlight. This enables others to shine and thrive.
The evening begins as Baby June (Emily Jewel Hoder) and Baby Louise (Cameron Blake Miller) sing, front and center, "Let Me Entertain You." It's already about financially strapped Rose, a single mother, desperately attempting to have her girls snag a spot in a talent show. June is the flashier and perhaps more gifted of the two. Hoder smiles, dances on her toes, and does the splits.
Herbie (Philip Hernandez) is a talent agent on the circuit and accompanies Rose as she pushes for a tour all over the country with the hope that June can make it and score some cash to keep everyone going. Backstage in Los Angeles, Rose and Herbie join voices on the familiar, catchy "Small World." Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics and Jule Styne the music to complement Arthur Laurents' book.
The girls evolve into young women: Dainty June (Laura Sky Herman) is designated to become a star but she escapes with Tulsa (Michael Starr) and has left word that she is just tired of the pressure. Starr performs "All I Need Is the Girl" and proves to be a graceful dancer. Patricia Wilcox expertly choreographs throughout. The first act end with Judy McLane's rendition of a welcome standard, "Everything's Coming Up Roses."
The second act begins as an even more urgently fretful Rose devises a new rendition of an old act for adult Louise (Talia Suskauer) with her group of girls called the "Toreadorables." Then the threesome of Rose, Herbie and Louise combine on a winning "Together, Wherever We Go." Suskauer shows tremendous versatility throughout her final hour on stage. She is transformative, and Louise, through burlesque, is no longer shy but gloriously audacious. Suskauer's Louise has a plainer look during her earlier moments on stage but converts to sultry and sexy later one. She is eye-catching.
At the very end, "Rose's Turn" is about Rose's motivations. If ambition has been Rose's purpose, has she proceeded with concern and anxiety for her daughters or, more selfishly, for her own survival–and what kind of a parent has she been? The further question is whether she has dominated with integrity for her daughters, which might justify her authoritarianism. The Goodspeed rendering and McLane's presence indicate that this parent has rigid ideas but does not abuse her power with daughters. Rose has been through three marriages and mostly resists Herbie's plea that she try it once again. Rose is grasping and gasping for more but, while outwardly vocal, is most likely terrified of her limited prospects. If she intends to live, vicariously, through Louise, that's not about to happen.
In addition to the magnetically appealing Suskauer, Judy McLane deftly embodies Rose as a savvy, seasoned middle-aged woman. Philip Hernandez's Herbie is sympathetic and loyal, even as Rose toys with him. The children cast for the performance are on point and delightful, with Emily Jewel Hoder an early highlight. Adam Souza's musical direction assists throughout this eager, sustaining Goodspeed presentation.
Gypsy runs through June 25, 2023, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-873-8668 or visit Goodspeed.org.