REVIEW: "Gypsy, A Musical Fable" – Academy for the Performing Arts, Huntington Beach

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

..."I’m not a stripper. At these prices, I’m an ecdysiast!”

Easily one of my favorite Broadway musicals, I have seen “Les Miserables” countless times. And on each attendance I still sit breathless and rapt as Eponine sings her signature song,“On My Own,” in an electrifying voice, transporting me directly to revolutionary France.

Echoing those sensibilities, as I watched the final weekend performance of “Gypsy, A Musical Fable” at the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, I was equally transported to the Great Depression – the Orpheum Circuit, the dusty roads, and the glittering lights of Broadway dreams.

Minutes before the show, with just a hint of butterflies, I wondered whether this Gypsy could live up to its legend of praise and multiple Tony nominations, often referred to as “Broadway’s book musical." But then, just as quickly, my trepidation vanished and it was replaced with a sense of ease and assurance. I mean, after all – Tim Nelson is directing! …And sure enough, the production surpassed my wildest expectations.

Even the overture, played with gusto by the pit orchestra under Gregg Gilboe’s baton, creates a sense of anticipatory excitement. The show itself is a testament to the power of the integrated musical in which Arthur Laurents' book, Jule Styne’s music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics are all partners in genuine coalition, authentically evoking the tackiness of the touring vaudeville circuit of the early 1900’s when children were mercilessly exploited.

Inspired by Gypsy’s memoirs, Mr. Laurents concentrates his vision of the fractured family at the show’s center. The principal players, led by the incredible Daisy Tye (“Mary Poppins,” “Big Fish”) as smothering Mama Rose; Mackenzie Jones (“Disney’s Little Mermaid,” “Brigadoon”) as an intriguing Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee, and Patrick McCormick (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Side Show”) as Herbie, the gentlemanly candy salesman and reluctant theatrical agent who loves her – all packed a uniform wallop and a half.

Not one flat note or missed cue is to be found here, and the take-no-prisoners performance swept me pell-mell into this tale of a pushy stage-mother-from-hell, traveling across America from theatre to theatre, forcing her two young daughters to fulfill her own unrealized ambitions of vaudeville stardom.

Rose’s two daughters, June and Louise, are played by incrementally aged actresses. Breea Hayes is Baby June and Grace Houchen is Dainty June, donning a grinning masque that covers a sour disposition, and is alternately played by Olivia Aniceto. Young Louise is Melayna Lasky. Tulsa (Paul Rasoe), with his big dreams of a dance team with June, also is a prime highlight of the bright cast.

Gypsy is a strange, warped jewel in the crown of American theatre. Many of its songs have become classics, and critics throughout the years have heralded it as one of the best American musicals ever conceived. Rose, arguably the play’s central character, is a complex figure who has been portrayed throughout the years by greats such as Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, and Patti LuPone.

In the early days of television, Gypsy Rose Lee was a "personality." By then, Burlesque was already dead and buried, so, she appeared exclusively on late-night talk shows or Hollywood Squares - like Polly Bergen, P