A few years ago, thanks to the advent of reality TV, the stage mom trope had a moment in the sun. Dance Moms and Toddlers and Tiaras showcased pushy moms (and dads) playing mind games to advance their kids’ careers or miming dance moves offstage to remind their 3-year-old to twirl the baton just right. But before these shows entered the narrative, one stage mom reigned supreme: Mama Rose.
Now playing at Longmont Theatre Company through May 19, Gypsy tells the true story of famed burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee and how her relentless mother, Rose, schemed her daughter into the spotlight. It’s a show about a thirst for a better life and the all-American dream of making it big.
The story starts in the early 1920s on the dwindling vaudeville circuit. Rose’s main focus is on her daughter, Baby June, becoming a star. Supporting June are her less-talented sister Louise, who would eventually adopt the stage name Gypsy Rose Lee, and a group of other child actors. When the kids outgrow the acts and June pursues her own dreams, Rose shifts her focus to Louise, who eventually turns to stripping to make the big bucks.
Gypsy is frequently credited among the most classic shows of musical theater, and its hit “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is considered one of the greatest show tunes of all time. It debuted in 1959 with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. Considering the talent of its creators, it’s no wonder the show holds up more than 60 years later. With the punchy music of Stern matched with the smart wordplay of Sondheim, Gypsy is a toe-tapping show that captures the golden age of musical theater.
Along with the classic soundtrack, Gypsy is full of charming, wholesome fun — always welcome in today’s frequently dreary world. Because of its vaudeville setting, the show includes entertainment throwbacks like Shirley Temple-esque performances, tap dancing and even the classic two-person cow costume.
But the show is darker than it first appears. At its core, it explores the human condition of wanting attention and love, be it as a parent or a child. It’s about parents who sacrifice it all for their children’s benefit — even though their actions might be more selfish than they think, and it’s about the necessity and pain it takes to break away from a parent.
With Mother’s Day right around the corner, Gypsy shows the ups and downs of parenthood and, ultimately, it’s a show anyone can relate to, as a parent or child, in showbiz or not.
It’s a big show with multiple set changes and a large cast, and Longmont Theatre Company puts on a great production, brimming with energy and close attention to detail.
Mama Rose is one of the most coveted roles in all of musical theater. Originated by the legendary Ethel Merman, the character has been played by Bette Midler, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone. Rose is cutthroat, ambitious, calculating and hungry for fame. Underneath those layers, she’s a vulnerable, unfulfilled woman.
Longmont Company veteran Melissa Fike takes on the role and turns out a wonderful performance. With star quality and a big voice to match, Fike perfectly fits the needs of the role, and works well as the glue of the show.
Supporting Rose is Emily Gerhard as the titular character. Louise/Gypsy has a complicated relationship with her mother, at first both dependent on and prey to her mother’s manipulation. The show follows her as she grows into a confident woman with her own career, and Gerhard brings grace and pizzazz to the role, with a lovely voice to boot.
The cast of supporting actors also give noteworthy performances. Alex White plays grown-up June and is a pleasure to watch. M. Shane Grant is wonderful as the sincere patriarch of the show, Herbie. The supporting cast of newsboys, showgirls and the rest of the chorus are also a delight — that includes the gaggle of talented child actors who grace the stage. Emma Hecht gives a standout performance as Baby June, as she cartwheels and squeaks her way across the stage, easily receiving the biggest laughs of the night.
While Gypsy immortalizes Gypsy Rose Lee’s rise to fame, it also gives credit to the ones behind the scenes. After all, sometimes Mama Rose, and mothers just like her, simply want their turn in the spotlight, too.
On the Bill: Gypsy — presented by Longmont Theatre Company. Longmont Performing Arts Complex, 513 Main St., Longmont. Through May 18.