May 24 was the opening night of Gypsy at the Arden Theatre Company of Philadelphia. The demand was so great during previews that the run has already been extended from its original closing to June 25th. And why would Philadelphians and theatre lovers in general flock to see another Gypsy? Director Terry Nolen says it best in his “Director’s Notes” whose first sentence is: “I wanted to direct Gypsy so that Mary Martello could do Mama Rose.”
You may have seen productions of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly or Patti Lupone as Mama Rose. You may have even seen Ethel Merman when she appeared in Gypsy in the 1950s. But Mary Martello is the current diva of the Philadelphia stage, and her reputation is well-deserved. Mary Martello’s Mama Rose is a great creation: touching; bad; sad; hysterical; scary; funny; lovable; and way optimistic. This veteran actress commands the stage even as she shares it with her fellow actors.
Was Martello’s Mama Rose a happy Mama or an angry Mama? Many feel that Ethel Merman depicted a happy Mama, while more modern (or postmodern) actresses portray her more as an angry, out-of-control narcissist, hell-bent on destroying all who obstruct her manic vision. So, what about Martello? From the Gypsy performance opening night, Mary Martello’s Mama Rose was an artful amalgamation of both the happy and angry Mama.
As the hapless Herbie, the man Mama Rose uses and abuses, Anthony Heald portrayed a noble man who sincerely loved Mama and her daughters. As Baby June and Baby Louise, Alexa Hunt and Veronica Nardo performed like troupers. As the adult June and Louise, Rachel Camp and Caroline Dooner assumed difficult roles which required a kaleidoscope of emotions. The entire cast was excellent, from the children to the adults portraying the vaudeville company through the years. A true standout was Monica Horan in the role of Tessie Tura. Most people can recognize Ms. Horan from her role as Amy on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Wearing next to nothing, Ms. Horan’s depiction of a worn-out and down-and-out stripper astonished. It took great courage on her part to be so naked onstage, both literally and figuratively. Bravo, Monica Horan!
The stage was open and bright, with musicians arranged on levels at either side of the action. The creative team included Scenic Designer James Krozner, Lighting Designer Thom Weaver, Costume Design by Richard St. Clair, Video and Sound by Jorge Cousineau, with Ryan Touhey as Conductor. One unfortunate reality of today’s musical theatre was the credit given to Ryan Touhey for Orchestra Reductions. Even with a reduced orchestra, it was thrilling to hear a live band.
If you have never seen Gypsy, or if you’ve not seen a production in years, then you owe it to yourself to see this classic musical by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, and Stephen Sondheim.
Gypsy is the last show of the season. Subscriptions to the 2017/2018 season are now on sale. For more information about Gypsy, or to purchase tickets, call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org
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