In sports, the term ‘ringer’ generally refers to the practice of using a clearly superior competitor in order to gain an unfair advantage. In theatrical terms, it can be used to describe the importation of outside talent in the hope of drawing a larger-than-normal audience. In both cases, the hope is that the player/performer will hit it out of the park.
6th Street Playhouse has a ringer in their cast of Gypsy, running through October 20, in the person of Kathy Fitzgerald.* A successful character actress with featured roles in several Broadway hits (Wicked, The Producers), Ms. Fitzgerald takes on the challenging lead role of Momma Rose in what many consider to be the greatest American musical.
Momma Rose will stop at nothing to make her daughter “Baby” June (Gigi Bruce-Low) a star, keeping her perpetually young as they cross the country with a third-rate vaudeville act. When the grown up “Dainty” June (Melody Payne) tires of the child act and elopes with one of the young men from the troupe, Momma Rose turns her sight to frequently dismissed second daughter Louise (Cecilia Brenner, then Carmen Mitchell.) With vaudeville dying, they’re reduced to appearing at a low-rent theatre that turns out to be a burlesque house. When the main ‘attraction’ is unable to go on, Momma Rose sees the chance to make Louise a star, if only for a night. The shy and retiring Louise soon becomes Gypsy Rose Lee.
The book by Arthur Laurents is complimented by the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim score that contains such classics as “Let Me Entertain You”, “Together Wherever We Go”, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”, and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.
Director Jared Sakren got a ‘two-fer’ with the casting of Ms. Fitzgerald as she’s joined onstage by her husband Roger Michelson in the role of Herbie, the harried agent who’s hopelessly in love with Rose. He’s quite good and is often the emotional heart of the show. Carmen Mitchell also shines as the coming-into-her-own Louise.
Production values are spotty, with the show visually flat until late in the second act when bright costuming by Pamela Johnson and lighting by April George elevated the show. The same can be said for Ms. Fitzgerald’s performance.
To return to sports parlance, she spent most of the show hitting singles and doubles and didn’t really get a great at-bat until the show’s conclusion with “Rose’s Turn”.
It was a solid triple.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½
‘Gypsy’ runs through October 20 at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday–Sunday, 2pm. $35–$48. 707.523.4185. 6thstreetplayhouse.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
* Author’s Note – Production photos of Ms. Fitzgerald in character are unavailable as Ms. Fitzgerald declined to participate in any publicity photography.
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.