Ambitious mounting of ‘Gypsy’ on North Fork

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Socrates said the two greatest tragedies in life are: not getting your heart’s desire, and getting your heart’s desire. The paradox was his way of acknowledging that somewhere wedged between needs and longings is the certain—if often misguided—belief that righteousness, or at least correctness, will companion personal and professional drive.

Employing desperate devices to desperately achieve desperate ends (to the point of further desperation) is fundamental to the characters within “Gypsy,” currently being given an economic and ambitious mounting by the North Fork Community Theatre.

For almost 50 years, the classic backstage tale of a maniacal mother pushing her daughters toward stardom (and away from herself) has, in equal parts, captivated audiences and instilled second thoughts regarding parenting and its unpredictable consequences. At the same time, it has cemented its central character’s position in the “must-play-someday” category for mature actresses. Indeed, it is a coveted role, the brass ring of female musical theater leading roles.

Following in the t-strapped footsteps of Ethel Merman, Rosalind Russell (film), Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bette Midler (television), Bernadette Peters and currently Patti LuPone, is a daring and daunting strut, but a challenge that many aspire to conquer.

In the first scene, Rose concedes that “desperate people do desperate things.” And for the next two and a half hours, we are thrust into a difficult world of dwindling opportunities, depressed economy and oppressed players yearning for love, success, recognition, security and a sense of reality. Here, the genius of the book by Arthur Laurents, Jules Styne’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’s original direction and choreography create powerfully visual, verbal and visceral worlds of choices for the determined, delusional and disillusioned denizens of this seemingly simple yet complex and tragic tale.

These complexities, coupled with the show’s demands and cast size, make “Gypsy” difficult to produce. The North Fork Community Theatre production succeeds on many levels and provides plentiful pleasures. A badge for bravery should be awarded to director Rusty Kransky for helming this production and moving it along neatly.

Ample credit should also be awarded to Pat Wall and Jeff Wentz for superior musical direction and piano accompaniment, and young Zachary Branker, who not only kept the tempos moving, but is one of the finest percussionists I have heard in quite some time.

As the younger June and Louise, Jacqueline Minogue and Brette Rosen, respectively, are delightfully distinct personalities. In the showier role, Miss Minogue is a pint-size pistol with polish that belies her tender years.

Adding dimension to the evening in unexpected quantity (and quality), Bob Beodeker, Ted Lapides, Glenn Friedman and Michael Horn take cameo appearances and infuse the evening with energy, artistry and excellence. Mr. Horn’s masterful facial work in “Mr. Goldstone” is worth his weight in gold. Mr. Beodeker’s ability to inhabit multiple characters with effortless ease and élan always delights.

Leading the Farmboys, once the perfunctory strobe-light device ages the younger set during the salute to Uncle Sam (this remains one of Mr. Robbins’s best choreographic/directorial touches), Brett Chizever portrays Tulsa as a boy growing with his desires and dreams. Given the only sweeping and romantic dance number in the show, “All I Need Is the Girl,” Mr. Chizever is inexplicably confined to a small platform for most of the song, which should be one of the more buoyantly hopeful moments of the show. It is to his credit that physically and vocally he has matured into a formidable performer. I only wish he had not, choreographically, been restricted here.

Bringing down the house with the customary titillating tartness, the three strippers, Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra, played by Lucille Naar-Saladino, Dee Martin and Laura Jones, bump and grind their gusto into the number and the hearts of the audience. “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” is the much-needed respite before the darkness of reality overtakes the leading players.

Ivy Crocteau, as the older June, is a dazzling delight. Blessed with a Betty Boop voice and agility that often evades other performers, Ms. Crocteau’s tap routine in toe shoes is truly spectacular.

Bedeviled by ulcers, uncertainties and unrealistic dreams, the trio of Rose, Louise and Herbie carry the weight of the evening, and more often than not, rise to the occasion.

David Markel’s Herbie is a charm. Blessed with a demeanor reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Markel creates a Herbie who clearly cares for this family too much. As a result, we do as well. Herbie is the audience’s catalytic connection to this damaged family and a finer conduit one could not hope for.

Jacklyn Lisi’s Louise is the most challenging role, with the most pivotal and definable arc. Emerging from behind her mother’s skirts and into a spotlight where her vulnerability is even more thinly veiled, the ecdysiast sheds her skin, to be sure, but is never able to shed the years of neglect. Under wispy bangs, the doe-eyed Ms. Lisi is the incarnation of a dilemma who captures the heart of the audience early in the show. I can only hope that in subsequent performances she will find the offstage vulnerability “Gypsy” Rose Lee could not veil or discard.

To Ms. Lisi’s credit, this is the first performance of “Gypsy” I have seen that made “Little Lamb” a true search for identity. Ms. Lisi’s internal rendering of the least popular song in the score is embracing and endearing.

As Rose, Marion E. Stark must combine portions of Medea, Mother Hubbard and Mother Courage into what many have deemed as difficult a role for women as Lear or Willy Loman is for men. Ms. Stark has stage presence to spare and a thrilling soprano register. As the show matures, I hope she finds more of the desperation and survival instinct needed to convey “a pioneer woman without a frontier.” It is well within her grasp, for her reprise of “Small World” toward the end of Act II is heartbreaking and, for Ms. Stark, her most honest, vulnerable and captivating moment of the evening.

“Gypsy” is a fable—meant to share a bit of truth and an ounce of wisdom. North Fork Community Theatre has crowned its 50th Anniversary season with a standing-room-only show that both entertains and enlightens.

The NFCT production of “Gypsy” continues in Mattituck May 16 through 18 and May 22 through 25, with evening performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30. For ticket information, call 298-6328.

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