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“Gypsy” (The LASALLE Show 2013)

March 20, 2013
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Gypsy2Event: “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” (the LASALLE Show 2013)
Venue: The Singapore Airlines Theatre @ LASALLE College of the Arts
Run: 20th – 23rd March 2013

Let Me Entertain You

The LASALLE Show 2013 presents one of the finest and most cherished works in the musical theatre canon in the form of “Gypsy”.

While perhaps not as fashionable nowadays as your mega musicals or your Disney musicals or even your Rodgers & Hammersteins, “Gypsy” does deserve special mention in Broadway lore and is often regarded by critics as one of the greatest musicals of all time, as it features arguably one of musical theatre’s most layered and complex characters ever – the inimitable Rose, mother of her two daughters June and Louise.

“Gypsy” features the legendary Stephen Sondheim as lyricist, with Jule Styne providing the music and Arthur Laurents writing what might be one of the finest books in Broadway history.

Then, a young Sondheim had just cut his teeth on Broadway serving as lyricist on the highly-successful “West Side Story”, when he was offered the role of lyricist for “Gypsy”.

Because he had harboured compositional aspirations as well, he had initially refused the gig as he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a lyricist only (the show’s big star Ethel Merman didn’t want to take a chance on an untested composer in Sondheim at that point).

However, upon the encouragement of his mentor – the great lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II – Sondheim eventually accepted the gig as Hammerstein had told him it would be a great opportunity to write lyrics for a big star.

According to Sondheim, “Gypsy” was the show at which he had come of age as a lyricist.

The musical is set in 1920’s vaudeville America, and tells of the story of how Rose – Broadway’s most famous Tiger mom – struggles in her quest to make stars out of her two daughters, and portrays the hardships and perils of the life of show business.

It shows the lengths to which Rose would go to to pursue stardom for her kids, often at the expense of ruining her own personal relationships with her loved ones.

I loved the fact that the production team had assembled a sizeable ensemble of musicians for this show, with a considerably large brass section to serve the particular needs of this exquisite Styne score.

There is nothing quite like hearing the glorious strains of the overture coming from a pit full of live musicians.

And while the enthusiasm and vigour of the ensemble cannot possibly be faulted, there did seem to be some slight bit of untidy playing especially in the first act, not to mention the fact that there were points in which the performers’ entry into their song was a bit clumsily done.

Nonetheless, this was preview night after all, so concession must be given.

In terms of stage performance, in a cast full of immensely talented performers, Vanessa Powell somehow still manages to stand out for her unbelievably riveting and nuanced portrayal of the character Rose, which just might be one of the most difficult roles in musical theatre to pull off convincingly.

Kelly White as June was highly impressive as well, as was the other main character Louise (played by Emma Etherington), although her eventual transformation into the sultry striptease artiste Gypsy Rose Lee at the end wasn’t as drastic as I would have imagined.

Timothy Langan as Herbie, Rose’s love interest, was charming though a bit on the soft side, and was often overshadowed by the overwhelming personality of Rose.

Erin Clare should also be singled out for her wonderful turn as Tessie Tura.

On the whole, I thought that the entire cast was very strong and almost resembled a professional ensemble.

It just boggles the mind to think that so many of these cast members are still only students of LASALLE.

The lighting design and costumes were beautiful, while the sets were relatively simple yet highly serviceable.

The entire musical is a full-length one and clocks in at around 2 hours 45 mins (including intermission), although apart from a slightly laborious first hour or so, things eventually started to pick up and remained highly engaging from then onwards.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience at the Singapore Airlines Theatre, and I’m very thankful that this particular musical was chosen to be staged, so as to remind us of how great a work “Gypsy” continues to be.

Lastly, LASALLE must be lauded for putting up such an impeccable production, and this being only the preview night, I have every reason to believe that the following four nights would only get even better.

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