‘Gypsy’ Delights in Connecticut (4 Stars)

Gypsy, A Musical Fable. Music by Jules Styne. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Directed by Vincent J. Cardinal. Presented by Connecticut Repertory Theater, University of Connecticut, School of Fine Arts Center for the Arts, Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Mansfield, Connecticut, through July 20.


It’s hard to go wrong with a show as good as “Gypsy”. Based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, “Gypsy” tells the story of two sisters and their stage mother whose desire for them to succeed in show business nearly breaks them. When June, the favorite daughter, runs away, Mama Rose is forced to make do with Louise, the daughter who lacks talent. When Louise eventually makes it, it’s not exactly the career trajectory Mama Rose was hoping for.

I have seen “Gypsy” onstage twice before – once with the incomparable Angela Lansbury, and once with Patti Lupone. When I found out that Leslie Uggams was playing the role of Mama Rose in the first staging of the musical with non-traditional casting, I didn’t think twice about jumping in my car – and dragging several family members with me – to cross state lines to see it.

How, I wondered, would they transform the elegant and lithe Leslie Uggams into the crass and charming Mama Rose? The last time I saw Uggams in a show, she was gliding across the Broadway stage in “Jerry’s Girls”, so cool and regal. Wearing low-heeled shoes, a frumpy hairdo and dowdy clothes, Uggams manages to transform completely into the quintessential stage mother, alternately ebullient and nasty. It is a nuanced performance. Her eyes, sometimes soft, sometimes steely, often manic, portray a woman that is possessed with an all consuming theatrical desire. And when she sits, after learning that June has eloped, she delivers a touching monologue that makes me understand the character for the first time, about how when her mother left, she cried for a week. “So that’s why she’s so damn attached to her kids!” I thought.

Louise, played by Amandina Altamare, is wonderful. As the teenaged tomboy who has to take a backseat to her more talented sister, Altamare is all awkward limbs and goofy innocence. As she gains confidence as a striptease artist, Altamare’s Louise moves with grace and her manner is poised. Her fellow strippers, Mazeppa (Mackenzie Leigh Friedmann), Electra (Cassandra Dupler) and Tessie Tura (Ariana Shore) are brassy and terrific, and their number, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” is a blast.

Cassie Abate’s choreography is marvelous to watch, and cast members execute the dances well, particularly Tulsa (played by Luke Hamilton) whose song and dance number, “All I Need is the Girl” is loose limbed and nimble. Alanna Saunders is also well cast as the put upon June, who is tired of having to pretend to be a little girl. Her duet with Altamare, “If Mama Was Married” is spirited and playful.

My only advice to Connecticut Repertory is to get some large road signs, directing audience members to the theater. We almost missed the show because we couldn’t find it. Besides, it’s not every day that a star of Leslie Uggams’s caliber comes to town; let’s give her and this multicultural “Gypsy” some decent signage! For more info, go to: http://crt.uconn.edu/