We often hear back from readers — with both good and bad news — and it's far preferable when it's positive. So it was a welcome email this week from Doris Duquette, who has proven herself both a friend (actually capital F Friend) of the Kern County Library as well as local theater.
By chance, we attended the same performance of "Gypsy" at Ovation Theatre on Friday.
Of the show she wrote, "'Gypsy' is one of the best performances ever done in music theater for years in my opinion." Then she went on to declare "The entire cast is excellent — voices great — production numbers outstanding — costumes terrific!!"
While you may be wondering why this community member is taking up all the ink, it's to illustrate something about this show. In a half-full theater that night, two of us were moved to share our experience to the community. Although I don't have the actual numbers and percentage on that, it's got to be a good sign.
And "Gypsy" is certainly a good show, worth filling the rest of the 100-seat theater for the remainder of its run (through Oct. 29).
In terms of local theater experiences, it reminds me both of seeing "9 to 5" at Stars in 2013 and The Empty Space's "Hay Fever" in 2011; the former for its strong adaptation of the source material, the latter for its strong performances.
For those who don't know the story — and that's a surprising number, at least in my newsroom — "Gypsy" follows the journey of Rose (Rosie Ayala) in her effort to make vaudeville stars of her daughters, June (Addison Cline and Josephine Resolme alternate playing the child role; Kelsea Ryan Johnson plays her as an adult) and Louise (Sophia Resolme, later Amelia Mejia). June ends up striking out on her own, but Louise sticks closer to her mother even as she trades vaudeville for burlesque dancing, where she really makes a name — Gypsy Rose Lee — for herself.
Along with the popular stage musical (in which Ethel Merman first played Rose), "Gypsy" was also a well-known 1962 film starring the dynamic Rosalind Russell as the never-give-up stage mother with a penchant for Chinese food and getting her way.
Ayala is a worthy successor. It's clear why director Adam Cline cast her first in this show. Three-quarters of the production is all hers, as she barrels through, a maternal force of nature. She really sells it in numbers at the end of each act, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn," which is enhanced by some creative stage work that puts her name literally up in lights.
The remainder of the show is Mejia's, who transitions from the older sister content to play second fiddle to the performer who knows she earned her place in the spotlight. Her montage of early burlesque performances, which required quick off-stage costume changes are just one of many comical moments in the show. She reveals so much without actually taking much off.
Speaking of burlesque, the number "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" resonated with the crowd, in part from the comedy and also from what seemed to be a cheering crowd for the trio of actresses. Tessie, Mazeppa and Electra (Maria Tania Bacerra Weingarden, Michelle Weingarden Bacerra and Stephanie Cervantes, respectively) show Louise that the key to the dance is not so much about what you take off but what you do with what you've got. Whether that's a light-up costume or creative musical interlude, it's not focused on stripping. If Ovation ever decided to do a revue of their first-year shows, this would be a great number in the set list.
It's also worth noting the caliber of young performers. Outside of a youth production, it's not common for a show to feature so many child performers, but these boys and girls were great. The balloon girl (Micah Ward) was hilarious in the opening scene when all the young performers are auditioning. It's unfortunate she tries to run up against Mama Rose, who will use any tactic, including popping balloons, to get her girls in the show.
Eventually, the older actors must take over the roles and one of the cleverest moments in the show is that transition, executed seamlessly during the number "Baby June and her Newsboys." The girls and "newsboys" fill the stage dancing and as they continue to shuffle back and forth, the actresses switch places so the big finish ends with Johnson and Mejia in place. It's a fun bit of choreography from Terri Cline, who did a fantastic job balancing a large cast of performers with the existing stage space for snazzy routines.
There were a couple of sound hiccups and a stumbled line or two, but that's part of the fun of live theater. Watching people bring a story to life right before your eyes can be magic. Perhaps that something more people should consider when making their weekend plans.