Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Gypsy at the Goodspeed: The Vaudeville Spirit

Talia Suskauer and Laura Sky Herman in Gypsy. (Photo: Diane Sobolewski)

You know that Jenn Thompson, the director of the Goodspeed Opera House’s production of Gypsy, has a steady hand on the wheel right from the opening scene. It’s an audition for child acts in a dilapidated Seattle theatre in the grim last years of vaudeville, when the talkies dealt it a long, painful death that coincided with the Depression. The stage is crowded with kids in a variety of garish get-ups and their mothers until Uncle Jocko (Edward Juvier), the ulcerated, borderline creepy, far-from-unbiased comic hosting the variety show, banishes the latter. Then Rose (Judy McLane), who is promoting her little girl, Baby June (Emily Jewel Hoder), bulls her way down the aisle; the rules don’t apply to her. June has a head full of blonde curls and an affected squeal; she’s a nightmarish proto-Shirley Temple, flanked by her awkward older sister Louise (Cameron Blake Miller). Thompson’s staging picks up the show-biz chaos, its comedy and preposterousness and desperation, which finds its most feverish embodiment in Rose, the quintessential stage mother – perhaps the greatest and most original creation in the history of musical theatre.