Clay White thinks of the musical Gypsy as “a dramedy.”
“This material has me concentrating on the emotional part of the journey for these characters,” White said. “It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever directed. There are funny parts to the show, but it’s a sad story.”
Music Theatre of Denton opens its 29th season with the popular 1959 musical based on the life and relationships of Gypsy Rose Lee, her mother and manager Rose Hovick, and her younger sister June. Gypsy and her sister, June, were vaudeville performers from childhood — and their divorced mother’s meal ticket.
In the musical, Gypsy becomes a celebrated burlesque dancer, known for her classy and witty act, but forever feels like the neglected daughter — the awkward and bookish Louise to her younger sister’s dazzling Baby June song and dance.
In real life, burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee eclipsed her sister in a career that spanned 30 years, moving from Minsky’s Burlesque to the big screen and finally to the talk-show stage and the writer’s desk.
White, the show’s director, said he took on the musical out of nostalgia. Gypsy was the first show he ever appeared in, at age 14. Now the performer and director has five directing credits under his belt in Denton alone and is plumbing the depths of a musical that leans on the bright lights and glamour of show business, yet exposes the ruthlessness and loneliness that can hound show people.
John Norine Jr. returns to the musical director’s lectern, coaxing Gypsy’s bright and brassy sound from 11 musicians.
“The show is written for an orchestra of 20, so we’ve done some rewriting,” he said.
The music calls for a bigger brass section, so Norine said he’s brought in three trombone players and some trumpets, among other winds. The orchestra will join the performers on stage, as if on a bandstand.
“The actors talk to the musicians in the script, so it made sense,” White said.
Denton Dance Conservatory graduate Jaclyn Butt has choreographed the dances. Group numbers call for comedy — as in the strippers who initiate Louise into burlesque with “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” — as well as sensuality in Gypsy Rose Lee’s sleight-of-hand striptease and duets “All I Need Is the Girl.”
The musical relies on the iron-strong vocals of Maria Valastro Harris (Little Women, The Sound of Music), who steps into Mama Rose’s shoes — previously filled by Tyne Daly, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler and Ethel Merman — to crack the house plaster in “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Some People.” Katie Moyes Williams returns to the local stage in the tricky, swan-story role — moving from mousey and awkward Louise to brainy brunette bombshell Gypsy.
“There’s a lot to the story that isn’t told in the musical,” White said. “There are certain aspects of Mama Rose that, if they were in the show, it’d be hard to sympathize with her or like her. We really wanted to bring out moments of hope followed by moments of sorrow in the show.”
Audiences will see a stage design that is presentational — big, bright and bold — set against the minimal and intimate scenes.
For all of its volume and belting, Gypsy is a much more intimate musical than, say Les Miserables. After all, the battles in Gypsy are on a family-sized scale. What sisters Louise and June crave more than anything is the traditional family — to have their mother married to their candy salesman-turned-agent, Herbie, (or any stable, loving father figure) with a house and pets. Louise has a fondness for animals she’d collect if Mama Rose didn’t keep their small, driven brood on the run from unemployment.
“It’s a sort of fragmented reality we see in this staging,” White said. “There’s the show business, and then there are the girls, Rose, June and Louise. The scenery of Rose’s story is a big contrast to everything else.”
The director praises his principal actors for turning the script into a story of two girls who grow up under a stage mother’s thumb, and often without much in the way of motherly love.
“The girls have done a really good job showing how June and Louise grow up. Everything, from their posture to the way they walk, shows how they change,” White said. “Especially for Louise, because we see her go all the way from this awkward girl to this star.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .
CAST OF ‘GYPSY’
Mama Rose — Maria Valastro Harris
June — Anna-Marie Boyd
Baby June, newsboy — Carly and Katie Haynes
Louise — Katie Moyes Williams
Baby Louise, newsboy — Emma Hay and Caroline Kellam
Herbie — James D. Laney
Uncle Jocko — Marcus Lopes
Tessie Tura — Hannah Lane
Electra, stage mother — Melissa Sims
Mazeppa — Olivia Norine
Clarinet boy, newsboy — Travis E. Harris III
Tap-dancing urchin, newsboy — Abby Armstrong
Balloon girl, newsboy — Jessica Crouse
Agnes — Tess Moore
Marjorie May — Kristi Smith
Yonkers — Jonathan Charles
Gail — Bonnie Franz
Pop, Kringelein — Ozzie Ingram
Angie — Steve Robert Pounds
Webber, Mr. Goldstone, Pastey — Andrew Burns
Thelma — Piper Johnson
Stage mother, Miss Cratchit — Leslie Anne Ligon
Georgie, L.A. — Cameron Potts
Director — Clay White
Music director — John Norine Jr.
Choreography — Jaclyn Butt
Set design — John Norine Jr.
Lighting design — Elizabeth Lambert
Costume design — Marcus Lopez
Stage manager — Rae Harvill
Producer — Bill Kirkley
MUSIC THEATRE OF DENTON PRESENTS ‘GYPSY’
• What: a musical by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. March 8-9; and 2 p.m. March 10
• Where: Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
• Details: Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 62 and older, and $10 for students with valid ID. For reservations, call 940-382-1915 or visit https://buy.ticketstothecity.com/purchase.php?event_id=2159 .
• On the Web: www.musictheatreofdenton.com