‘Gypsy’ takes center stage at Lake Dillon Amphitheatre
DILLON ” Take one dysfunctional show business family, throw in a troupe of Hollywood blondes, burlesque queens, a dancing cow and the entire history of American Vaudeville, and what do you have?
You have one of the greatest Broadway musicals ever written, that’s what. And thanks to the Lake Dillon Theatre, “Gypsy” will be coming ” free to the public and for three performances only ” to the Dillon Amphitheatre this weekend.
Written by musical stage legends Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” opened on Broadway in 1959 and starred Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman and Sandra Church. The musical is based on the real-life memoirs of burlesque-queen-turned-movie-star Gypsy Rose Lee and features mega-hit show tunes such as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Small World” and “Let Me Entertain You.”
The star of Lee’s memoirs isn’t herself: It’s her mother. Mama Rose was the mother of all stage mothers; in real life she was a pushy, reportedly obnoxious tornado of a woman who bullied her two daughters into stage careers at a time when, admittedly, you had to have more than just a pretty face and a modicum of talent to get anywhere in “the business.” According to her grandson, the real Mama Rose also pulled a gun on one daughter’s husband, killed someone in her own boarding house and, on her deathbed, told her famous daughter Rose Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee), “Wherever you go … I’ll be right there. When you get your own private kick in the ass, just remember: It’s a present from me to you.”
Understandably, Gypsy Rose Lee waited for her mother’s death before writing her memoirs ” reportedly in order to avoid lawsuits from her obstreperous parent. The book, when it came out, was a sensation ” and not just because of the personality of Mama Rose that pervaded it. It was also hailed as a living, authentic document of the beginnings of American show business history: the vaudeville era.
The show was optioned for Broadway, where its creators took out some of the more unsavory aspects of Mama Rose’s character, making her more sympathetic by counterbalancing her own push and drive with a well-meaning desire to provide for her children in an era when women were not the traditional breadwinners.
And that, said the show’s director Wendy Moore, is one of the most appealing things about the show.
“It appeals to the dramatic person in me,” said Moore. “It’s actually based on a true story, so something happens in the play. It’s not just songs strung together with a narrative built up between them.”
And while the stage version of Mama Rose isn’t exactly easy to love either, her character is made more understandable by the story line.
“She made all of the wrong choices for all of the right reasons,” Moore said. “And while she is the stage mother from hell, you can see why. She did the best she could, and her need for success was because of her love for her children.
“After I realized that, I liked her a lot more.”
Moore also expressed enthusiasm for the level of talent on stage in the Lake Dillon Theatre production. The cast of 25 includes three actors from Denver as well as 10 actors from Summit County.
Lake Dillon Theatre artistic director Chris Alleman hopes that this production of “Gypsy” will spark audience interest in his plans to produce a full-scale Broadway musical every year as part of his summer stock season at the Dillon Amphitheatre.
“We hope the seed is planted for that,” Alleman said.
And even though Gypsy Rose Lee was, after all, the queen of the strippers, the show could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered naughty. On the contrary, Alleman points out, “Gypsy” has a wide appeal to both adults and children.
“It’s not a dark or risque show at all,” said Alleman. “It’s got such fun, uplifting numbers in it. And I think it appeals to kids because they’re in the whole first act of the show.”
And, of course, there’s a dancing cow.
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