Scottsdale Music Theater Company (SMTC) last night opened their 2015-16 season with “Gypsy,” a show whose lyrics helped start the incomparable Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway career. True to their mission of ‘bringing Broadway favorites back to life,’ SMTC produced at Tempe Center for the Arts the show that New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley referred to as “the greatest American musical.”
One of the biggest joys of SMTC’s production was the live orchestra in the pit below the stage. The horn section in particular popped out bright notes that kept the evening’s wailing lively.
The well-loved tunes from this 1959 Broadway show included ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ as they relayed the colorfully painful tale of a quintessential helicopter mom. For a decade-plus, overbearing stage mother Momma Rose (Debra Qualtire) parades her two daughters on sketchy cross-country Vaudeville-type tours determined to make one of them the star she herself never was. Based loosely on the memoirs of the famous Burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the story focuses on Gypsy’s mother.
Scottsdale’s Qualtire, with healthy chest voice and vibrato, stepped into some huge stage shoes this weekend. The musical’s Momma Rose character has been memorably defined and revived on Broadway by Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lapone. SMTC’s opening choice at Tempe Center for the Arts is keeping in step with the times, being the show is currently in revival at London’s West End as well.
Perhaps the most radiant SMTC member in the cast full of bright female characters was, ironically, male. Terry Gadaire as Herbie, the endearing booking agent hopelessly in love with Momma Rose, glowed and warmed the stage at every turn of his frustrated affections. With rich-textured voice as a character completely comfortable in his own skin, he floated through dance steps and doled out natural fatherly comfort with disarming charm.
The spiffy music and likable acting were necessity on account of the performance length opening night. After a full three hours, daughter Louise’s transformation from homely, talentless duckling to stunning Gypsy Rose Lee stripper was an energetic infusion. With uncanny resemblance to the Audrey Hepburn of “Gigi” fame, actress Sarah Cassidy was costumed in an array of breathtaking gowns.
Scenes will likely tighten and the show will smooth as its run progresses. Certainly the unbeatable lyrics and seminal characters will endure while those two little girls grow to big girls in Scottsdale Musical Theater’s production of “Gypsy” each night. Too, Momma will continue to exasperate her daughters and the audience alike, in a good way, as she chases fame and ignores the humans who try to love her throughout the course of each performance.
The cleverness of the girls’ commiserating made light and more enjoyable the tenor of an evening well spent at Tempe Arts Center. They sung to each other in waltz time, “If Momma was married / I’d jump in the air / And give all my toe shoes to you / I’d get all those hair ribbons / Out of my hair / And once and for all / I’d get Momma out too…”
Next up for Scottsdale Musical Theater Company is a Sondheim show that will be new to the Phoenix Valley, “Sondheim on Sondheim” at Tempe Arts Center, October 29-31.