Subscribe to my full feed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

'Gypsy’ strips her way to Central Valley

Gypsy Kathy Halenda considers herself a loud, gutsy lady — and she’s proud of it, too.

That’s why she considers herself perfect for her current role, playing one of the loudest, gutsiest ladies of them all: overbearing stage mom Mama Rose in the Broadway touring production of the musical “Gypsy,” which comes Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 12-13, to Fresno’s William Saroyan Theatre.

Halenda has a lot of respect for the legendary vaudeville mother. Rose made some hard choices, he said, and they weren’t always endearing ones.

But she did what she thought was best for her children, Halenda said.
“She had guts,” she said.

Mama Rose might not have been a saint, but she had principles and a dream for her daughters. Even if theater audiences don’t like Rose, Halenda hopes they at least come away from “Gypsy” understanding why she did the things she did.

“I like her,” Halenda said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for her.”

From vaudeville to burlesque

“Gypsy” tells the story of Mama Rose and her two daughters — who grew up to be the famous burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee and Broadway and Hollywood star June Havoc.

Missy Dowse, who plays Gypsy, agrees with her costar’s assessment of Mama Rose — but it took some time to come around to that point of view.

“At first, I thought she was a villain,” Dowse said. “But as thought more and more about her character, Rose is only doing what she thinks is best for her children.”
While Mama Rose dominates “Gypsy,” Dowse does gets some moments to shine — especially during scenes in which she does her strip-tease act. To research her role, Dowse read Lee’s memoirs and watched clips of her striptease routines, she said.

“What Gypsy Rose Lee did was not like today’s stripping,” she said. “She interacted with the audience. It was really artistic and funny.”

Besides being a compelling story about vaudeville and then the burlesque strip show, “Gypsy” is peppered with classic songs, including “Let Me Entertain You” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

“The music is just great,” Dowse said. “Every song is memorable.”

But the reason most people go see “Gypsy” is see Mama Rose, a character Halenda describes as one of the most challenging roles she’s ever played.

Rose talks, yells and sings a lot during the three-hour production. Instead of the usual three or four big numbers, Halenda gets seven or eight, including difficult tunes such as “Roses” and “Mr. Goldstone.”

And by the end of a performance, Halenda’s throat is shot, she said. That means she can’t party with the rest of the cast after a show. She’s got to rest her voice and recuperate.

“It sure isn’t easy,” Halenda said. “I have to live like a nun.”

Of course, the character of Rose is far from being a nun. Her daughters’ memoirs painted her as a manipulative, demanding tyrant who would do anything to make them stars — even if that meant they had to remove their clothes on stage.

Halenda hasn’t read those memoirs, which she said are slanted in the daughters’ favor. And there’s precious little other information on Rose. So Halenda based her character solely on the script and music by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.

The Rose most people know is the one originated by Ethel Merman on Broadway in 1959. Theater critics have said Halenda has more than a passing vocal resemblance to Merman.

“I’ve always been compared to Ethel,” Halenda said. “I’m loud, like she was.”

And because people are familiar with all of the classic songs in “Gypsy,” the challenge of playing Rose is even more daunting, Halenda said.

“The audience knows them all, and they know every word,” she said. “If you mess up, somebody’s going to know it.”

No comments: