| Chicago Reader


GYPSY, Bailiwick Repertory. "Some people sit on their butts / Got the dream--yeah, but not the guts!" sings Mama Rose, the antiheroine of this 1959 Broadway smash by playwright Arthur Laurents, composer Jule Styne, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and director Jerome Robbins. There are butts and guts on display in this low-budget revival, whose dumpy grittiness suits the story's sometimes sleazy settings. At once a bravura star vehicle and a tightly knit ensemble piece that perfectly synthesizes style and subject, Gypsy recounts how Rose--the driven, domineering mother of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and actress June Havoc--sacrificed family stability to make her daughters vaudeville stars even as the form was deteriorating into burlesque.

Alexandra Billings gives Rose an odd, not entirely convincing gentleness, but she delivers in the final solo--an onstage breakdown in which Rose releases her own long stifled star power and sexuality. Susan A. Miller effectively conveys Gypsy's transformation from ugly duckling to sexy swan, and she and Billings carry off director David Zak's rethought ending: instead of strolling offstage together in cozy camaraderie, they stand nervously hand in hand, their conflicts muted but not resolved. A decided departure from the usual splashy but timid dinner-theater renditions, this staging of the musical-theater masterpiece contains the raunchiest rendition I've seen of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," in which three seasoned strippers demonstrate the ecdysiast's art: Jill Henderlight's bare-assed turn as a corpulent, trumpet-playing bump-and-grinder gives new meaning to the word "horny."

--Albert Williams

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