A timeless story, ‘Gypsy’ hits close to home | Arts and Entertainment

When actress Cassondra James closes the first act of Aspen Theatre’s Gypsy: A Musical Fable with her performance of Everything’s Coming up Roses, the audience’s excitement is palpable.

Starring in Gypsy as Mama Rose, James’ rendition of the song – one of the most famous songs in musical theater – energizes the intimate Hurst Theater tent as she lights it up with her gorgeous vocals and manic expressions .

The room’s consistent reaction to this moment during each performance is from the perspective of Aspen Theatre’s producing director, Jed Bernstein. Because once a show opens, Bernstein said, producers often look to the audience rather than the stage.

“My favorite moments about the show so far have been watching people of all ages react to moments in the show, laughing or crying or being surprised,” Bernstein said. “That’s always the best, when you can feel an audience connecting with what’s happening on stage.”

Since Theater Aspen opened its main production of “Gypsy” last week, Bernstein can recount many of these moments in which the audience connects with the story on stage. He described the classic American musical as “timeless” – one worth reconnecting with these days because “there’s something for all of us to relate to”, said the producing director.

Loosely based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, “Gypsy” originally opened as a Broadway musical in 1959 with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Set in the 1920s-50s, the show follows Mama Rose, referred to as Rose, as she raises her two daughters, June and Louise, with a desperate desire for them to succeed in showbiz. Coined the “ultimate stage mother,” Rose travels the United States with her daughters, pushing them to perform—from new acts on the vaudeville circuit to an accidental foray into the wild burlesque scene.

At the unveiling of “Gypsy” today, Bernstein said it’s ultimately a story about family — specifically, the relationship between a mother and daughter. But also between daughter and father, with a layered dynamic between Rose and her Pop (played by Keith Lee Grant). The sibling relationship is also very much present in the Aspen Theater iteration; and even lovers – seen with Rose and Herbie’s character, led by Harry Bouvy.

“I think family is eternal, relationships are eternal, and even though classic entertainment isn’t — it continues to evolve — relationships transcend that,” Bernstein said. “And ‘Gypsy’ certainly connects with its audience in a different way than when it first came out, but no less strongly.”

Bernstein mentioned how the Aspen Theater cast’s multicultural decisions for this version of “Gypsy” also add to the universality of the story. The show’s three lead roles are played by women of color – James as Rose, Shea Gomez as Louise and Kayla Goins as June.

The producing director explained how he’s already seen the show evolve and the cast — a mixed cast of Broadway stars, local kids and all kinds of talent — have gained confidence in their roles. Bernstein pointed out that there is a large group of young people with a lot of stage time in this particular production. These young aspiring performers are treated like professional actors, he said; they rose to the occasion.

“Theater people say that no two shows are alike; every performance is different because every audience is different,” Bernstein said. “It’s very much a two-way relationship, and the actors feed off of the audience’s response, reaction and presence in the room.”

Other poignant moments Bernstein noted of the production so far include the choreographed number “All I Need is the Girl,” featuring Louise and Tulsa (played by Michael Rios); and “If Mama Was Married”—which features a unified moment between Louise and June, despite the two sisters’ opposition throughout the story.

And just as James’s stellar performance of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” to close the first act, she evokes a similar emotional response in the second act finale with “Rose’s Turn” — a scene that Bernstein described as one of the moments more dramatic. in musical theater.

In this final scene, Mama Rose realizes the sacrifices that made her daughters stars and the unattainable losses along the way: June is gone to run away; Herbie leaving after seeing Rose push Louise into a burlesque role; and Louise’s final transformation into strip star Gypsy Rose Lee.

Although no two performances are ever the same, James’ final performance of this explosive, high-caliber song evokes excitement from the audience at every single performance.

The Aspen Theatre’s “Gypsy” will continue through July 23 with performances held at the Hurst Theater nearly every evening at set times. Schedule and tickets are available at theatreaspen.org.

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