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'GYPSY' Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Now onstage at the Festival Theatre SHAW FESTIVAL

Credit: David Cooper. Kate Hennig as Momma Rose

Dave Rabjohn


Directed with a fulsome brashness, the production erupts with talent both on stage and off.

The frothy and ever popular musical ‘Gypsy’ is playing throughout the summer and fall at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, the musical is based on the memoirs of burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee.

The main character (stage mother of all stage mothers), Momma Rose, requires a performer of nuclear energy from her very first bark at a producer to the last resounding note of ‘Rose’s Turn.’ Kate Hennig offers that energy and then some with an absorbing performance. Having said that, Julie Lumsden’s performance as the withering child actor turned burlesque star is equally sensational.

Directed with fulsome brashness by Jay Turvey this production erupts with talent both on stage and off. Choreographer Genny Sermonia, set and costume designer Cory Sincennes, and lighting designer Kevin Fraser are elbowing each other for title of most daring and creative artist.

The well-known story of acting sisters Louise (Julie Lumsden) and June (Madelyn Kriese) vigorously pushed by their mother Rose through the dregs of the last days of vaudeville, we observe their modest triumphs and their more frequent struggles. Rose will lie, steal and badger producers for her girls’ success. At Louise’s expense, Rose chooses June as the star performer but pushes her too far and she bolts the troupe. Rose’s new agent and love interest, Herbie, played with tender acquiescence by Jason Cadieux, also is pushed into leaving.

A main strength of Ms. Lumsden’s performance is her versatility. Of all the colourful characters, Louise travels through the greatest spectrum of emotional decisions. The orchestra is superbly robust and Rose is equally vociferous, but Louise’s quiet moment as she stares at the floor considering the uncomfortable borders of the burlesque industry is poignant and powerful. Her transformation into a confident and global star is remarkably displayed.

Kate Hennig’s performance also runs crushing through men, agents, and producers to do anything for her girls - the girls she doesn’t realize are individual women. She cannot let them go until it is realized in the agonizing final scenes of her awareness. Acting aside, Ms. Hennig belts out the big numbers with vigour including ‘Some People’, ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’, and ‘Rose’s Turn.’

With limited roles at the beginning of the play, Ariana Abudaqa and Hanna Otta as the ‘baby’ sisters offer remarkable performances. Brilliantly inspired lighting and choreography transforms the girls into their older version right in the middle of a dazzling number.

Inventive design and choreography is also displayed in a number with a full-sized car rolling on and off the stage. Further creativity is in full gear with the number ‘Mr. Goldstone.’ A singular moment of Cory Sincennes’ set design is a backstage proscenium-like wall of glass-covered shelving full of stage articles.
Along with her dashing singing performances, Ms. Hennig also displays a character all about ‘change.’

This is a story of change – the girls grow up, vaudeville is fading, Rose’s role must adapt. Taking in this prodigious production may not change your life, but it will resonate well beyond the final applause.

‘Gypsy’ by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim.
Director: Jay Turvey
Music Director: Paul Sportelli
Choreography: Genny Sermonia
Set and costume design: Cory Sincennes
Lighting design: Kevin Fraser
Sound design: John Lott

Runs through October 7, 2023.

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