Stripped down

Deborah Draheim fans (count me among them) have been eager to see her in the consummate musical-theater role for the mature woman, Mama Rose in Gypsy. The buzz was she’d be good in the role, and it proved true, as seen in the modest production now at the Civic Center Music Hall’s Freede Little Theatre.

With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy is ostensibly the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, real-life ecdysiast (a term coined at her request for a dignified alternative to “stripper”), but it’s really about her mother, Mama Rose, who possesses a drive to make her daughters successful in show business.

Starting in vaudeville, Mama Rose and her daughters, Dainty June and Louise, work their way down. Then, practically by accident, Louise gains the name Gypsy Rose Lee, not to mention fame and fortune beyond even her mother’s expectations.

Draheim is a belter and an excellent actor, and if the rest of the show were up to her level, this would be something to see. The Freede’s sound system isn’t great, but Draheim delivers every lyric with clarity, and that’s important in this show.

The finale, “Rose’s Turn,” is on a bare stage with various incarnations of her name projected on the rear black curtain. It makes us Draheim fans long for a solo show or concert where she could display the range of her talent.

While Mama Rose is the protagonist, Louise is the budding star.

Stefanie Warnick’s Louise is lanky, plain-faced and tomboyish, making her transformation even more effective.

We first see Louise’s potential in “All I Need Is the Girl” with Tulsa (the fine Paul Mitchell). Then, late in Act 2, she evolves into Gypsy in “Let Me Entertain You.” Warnick’s Gypsy still sounds youthful, but Gypsy Rose Lee wasn’t exactly known for her voice.

Gypsy is a big, glitzy musical, but here, Oklahoma City Theatre Company follows the recent trend of staging such shows in scaled-down versions. A 10-piece band at the stage’s side accompanies the proceedings. Compared to last month’s similarly scaled My Fair Lady by Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, Gypsy is the better show for this type of staging.

Directed by Chad Anderson, the production achieves mixed results. Considering the problematic sound system, the lyrics come through clearly. A noticeable number of sound and light cues were missed at the reviewed performance. Anderson’s staging on Chris Fitzer’s minimalist scenic design, under Scott Hynes’ lighting, mostly works. Gypsy is such strong material that it would take a lot of meddling to lessen its effect.

Baby-faced Matt Barger plays Rose’s lover, while Bonner Church, Jennifer Helterbrand and Clarissa Feldt are the strippers who
advise Louise in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” If burlesque is on its way
out, this Rubenesque trio is leading it to a bumptious demise.

Larry Laneer

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