Keeping in mind the immense amount of time it must take most small theaters to produce a seamless, well-crafted performance of Arthur Laurents’ 1959 musical, Gypsy — with its countless costumes, 17 settings, monstrous cast and big-band charts — Cottage Theatre proves its ability to transcend the efforts of “most” small theaters by displaying their production with a lack of tack.
Gypsy is the tale of how Gypsy Rose Lee — the Queen of Burlesque — came to be. The first-act arc follows a slow trajectory, leaving many important plot-points for act two, though quite a few loose ends never actually get tied up. Quirks aside, though, the rather dry material is brought to life with a blend of fire and ice by co-directors Pamela Lehan-Siegel and Judy Smith and their cast.
Peg Major plays Mama Rose, the insufferable know-it-all mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, and she beautifully tiptoes the intended knife-edge between villain and sympathetic hero. By curtain fall you may end up thoroughly disliking the incessant push-and-shove pressure that Mama Rose places upon her daughters, and this is further testament to Major’s portrayal of the dynamic main character.
Although this musical has the potential to resemble a racy skin flick, Cottage pulls it off tastefully, though with enough bawdy dialogue and revealing costume design to keep it believable (and comical: praise goes to Miriam Major for her portrayal of the riotous Mazeppa). Without the swoon of Jule Styne’s original music (here directed by David Larsen), the production might lose its edge. Instead, the sexy, swinging jazz tunes are brought to life with gusto by a live band.
Much of Gypsy’s appeal comes with the slow transition from the charm of family life to brooding spirals of negative emotion, despite nothing much changing other than the girls growing up. In many ways it’s a story of letting go, but this production seizes the opportunity and pulls it off respectably.
Cottage Theatre’s production of Gypsy runs through May 6; tickets & info at cottagetheatre.org