FloArts presents “Gypsy,” the mother of all musicals
by Penny Powell
The mother of all musicals, “Gypsy,” is coming to the main stage of the Florida School of the Arts (FloArts), located on the Palatka campus of St. Johns River State College. "Gypsy" runs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21 through Saturday, February 23, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 24. Tickets are $5.
Loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque star of the 30s, the plot of “Gypsy” focuses on Gypsy’s relationship with her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with the “ultimate show business mother” because of how fervently she pushes her daughters to fame and stardom.
According to Director Patricia Crotty, while “Gypsy” is a specific story of vaudeville and burlesque, it’s also a universal story about parents and children. It’s about a larger-than-life mother figure who wants certain goals met for her daughters, and about children who are trying to find their own identity with their controlling mother. Crotty describes Rose as “colorful” and one who “will push her way into any theatre to talk to any producer to show her children’s pictures and to get her daughters what they’re supposed to have. It’s a great story,” said Crotty.
“Gypsy” is one of the first musicals that American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim ever worked on, “and he’s very much about storytelling,” Crotty explained. “In the world of musical theatre history, this is a transitional musical in terms of focusing on the storyline, and the plot and characters are significant,” she said.
Crotty believes that “Gypsy” has all the things one would want out of a musical, including a great deal of spectacle, such as showy numbers, glitz, flash, specific three-dimensional characters, animals, special effects and lots of lighting effects, dance and song. “But it also has the advantages of a play with a solid story that any parent or child could relate to,” she said.
With about 14 different locations in this show, “there’s a lot of scenery - a lot of different spaces,” Crotty said. “Then, inside the show, we have a number of different theatrical shows that the students are putting on. It’s a lot of fun, but also a big challenge to pull off.”
Crotty rates this quick-moving musical as PG-13, adding that “there’s no real bad language” included in the show. About the burlesque strippers, she said, “A burlesque stripper in the 1930s wore more clothes than our teenagers wear on the beaches today.” While the clothing of these performers will be skimpy, Crotty reiterated that the clothing is in context with the time period.
Many of the cast members are playing three and four roles a piece, as there’s a total of 67 roles in the show. “We believed we had the right students to do the show when we picked it,” Crotty explained, “and that is playing out to be very true. They are doing a dynamite job.”
Because the roles of Rose’s two daughters are significant parts of “Gypsy,” the audience will see them on the stage as children and adults through two sets of actresses.
The magnitude of the role of Rose, which Crotty described as one of the greatest roles in musical theatre history, called for FloArts voice instructor Stephanie Masterson to play it. "It’s a tour-de-force role,” said Crotty. “It’s a huge part, and we weren’t sure if we could do it how it’s supposed to be done unless we had a more veteran performer for that part as the mother, so Stephanie agreed to take it on. Having her in the show has been great, and she has a high standard that the students have to reach.”
“It’ just one of those roles that comes along once in a lifetime,” Crotty continued, noting that the role-model advantages that Masterson is offering to the students through playing Rose is huge. “She can bring things to the table that no student director can and model all of the best practices of being a performer,” said Crotty. “The students are seeing that in action. They are seeing her demonstrating what she’s teaching them in class.”
Masterson added, “This is quite a challenging role. `Mamma Rose’ is bigger than life and takes a lot of energy to get through every evening, but it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my performing career. Performing along with the students has been wonderful. Several of them have mentioned that it’s exciting to see their professor performing. They are always cheering me on with a ‘Way to go, Mrs. Masterson!’ or ‘You’re doing great, Mrs. Masterson!’ It really makes me proud that our students are not only supportive performers, but great people, too.”
Originally written for American actress and singer Ethel Merman, this famous Broadway show, with the book by Arthur Laurents and music by Jule Styne, has many show-stopping numbers in it, such as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” by Rose. “Songs that people recognize,” said Crotty. Other songs include “May We Entertain You?” by Baby June and Baby Louise, “Some People” by Rose, “Small World” by Rose and Herbie, “Broadway” by June and Farmboys, “If Momma Was Married” by June and Louise, and more.
A team of four costume designers is creatively working on the period clothing in “Gypsy” that reflects the 1920s and moves up through the 1930s, when Gypsy becomes a burlesque star. “We’re dealing with vaudeville and then we’re dealing with Burlesque, and so the costumes are phenomenal; they’re spectacular,” Crotty explained. “The Burlesque is very glitzy, very skimpy, very glamorous. This is the age of show girls. It’s been a lot of fun for the team to design. There’s certainly been a lot of shiny fabric in the costume shop,” she said.
Construction and stage management
A production of this nature presents some large and exciting scenery challenges for the technical and stage management students. While the construction crew has had no shortage of work, the stage managers have also had their hands full with organizing the flow of the scenery, on and off stage, which “has been a real logistical, educational process for them,” Crotty explained. “It’s like a giant puzzle.” Due to the volume of scenery, everyone in the show, and even people who aren’t, are helping to build and paint the scenery and hang the lights.
Working along with Crotty on “Gypsy” is Music Director Kandie Smith, Choreographer Jessica Mayhew, Scene Designer Mark A. Exline, Lighting Designer Chandler Caroccio, and student Costume Designers Danielle Brownfield and Marissa Mendez, who are working conjunction with costume faculty Tiffany Jordan and Emily Schafer.
The cast, in order of appearance with stage name/role listed first: Uncle Jocko/Cigar - Chris Toombs; Georgie/Stagehand/Weary Stripper/Minsky Girl - Allyson Futch; Balloon Girl/Mazeppa - Rebekah Herskovitz; Clarence/Young Yonkers/Youngest Boy Scout/Electra - Facia Lee; Clarence’s Dad/Goldstone - Fredrick Harris; Sousaphone Player/Boy Scout/LA/Phil - Miguel Algarin; Sousaphone Player’s Mom/Gladys/Santa Comic - Angelee Ramos; Juggling Girl/Tap Dancing Urchin/Young LA/Thelma - Emely Cuestas; Juggling Girl’s Mom/Gail - Maria Masters; Baby June/Caroline Rear/Ferdinand Rear/Minsky Girl - Katie Garrepy; Baby Louise - Loudise Ortiz-Hernandez; Rose - Stephanie Masterson; Chowsie - Goose Blankenship; Stagehand/Pastey - Melissa Moore; Stagehand/Minsky Girl - Sara Tye; Pop/Announcer - Dante Jones Soto; Rich Man’s Son/Young Angie/Minsky Girl - Hannah Johnson; Boy Scout/Hotel Woman/Dolores - Anastasia Costas; Mr. Webber/Angie - Noah Peacock; Herbie - Neal Baker; June/Ferdinand Front/Minsky Girl - Torie D’Alessandro; Louise/Caroline Front - Logen Cheatham; Tulsa - Chad Boyd; Yonkers - Elijah Richardson-Grant; Kringelein - Vincent Ward; Hotel Guest/Bourgeron-Cochon - Fermín Llosa; Hotel Guest/Marjorie May - Madeline Gamel; Lamb - Jameis Winston Cheatham; Chinese Waitress - Ariel LeMerle-Mousset; Cratchitt/Stripper/Renée - Danielle DuBois; Agnes - Dana Cox; and Tessie Tura - Ashley Leake.
Other production team members include: Assistant Director Robert Allen; Stage Managers Kaylee Dowd and Alysa Ness; Assistant Stage Managers M.J. McBride and Futch; Production Assistants: Moore, Angelee Ramos, Emily Skinner and Tye; Costume Shop Manager Jordan; Scene Shop Manager and Master Electrician Caroccio; Dance Captains D’Alessandro and Garrepy; Voice Captain Noah Peacock; Assistant Technical Director and Assistant Master Electrician Andrew Stevens; Sound Board Operator and Stitcher Kathryn Blankenship; Properties Masters: Blankenship, Dowd, Ness, Brandy Ramos and Stevens; Charge Artist Kat Babitzke; Mic Operators Savanna Flathmann and Stevens; Light Board Operator Kellin Ronquille; Spotlight Operators Nathaniel Heustis and Samuel Williams; Cutter/Draper Brownfield and Marissa Mendez; Wardrobe Head Jasmine Saumat; Dressers: Julie Barnes, Emily Poehlman, Kirsten Rude, Hayley Smith and Collin Wallman; Costume Construction Crew: Barnes, Parker Devereaux, Gamel, Emma Gazdecki, Nathaniel Heustis, Emily Poehlman, Kirsten Rude and Wallman; Carpenters, Painters, Electricians: Algarin, Allen, Babitzke, Baker, Alberto Blanco, Blankenship, Boyd, Brownfield, Logen Cheatham, Jahleel Christian, Costas, Cox, Cuestas, D’Alessandro, Sophia Delgado, Dowd, DuBois, Flathmann, Futch, Gamel, Garrepy, Harris, Herskovitz, Malik Johnson, Jones Soto, Leake, Lee, LeMerle-Mousset, Llosa, Masters, McBride, Mendez, Moore, Ness, Ortiz-Hernandez, Peacock, Brandy Ramos, Nicholas Ramsey, Richardson-Grant, Skinner, Stevens, Toombs, Tye, Ward and Patricia Williams; House Manager Wyatt Matlock; Understudies: Algarin, Allen, Costas, Cox, Cuestas, DuBois, Futch, Gamel, Harris, Herskovitz, Johnson, Jones Soto, Leake, LeMerle-Mousset, Llosa, McBride, Moore, Ness, Angelee Ramos, Richardson-Grant and Tye.
Florida School of the Arts, which serves the entire state of Florida, is part of the academic and administrative structure of SJR State and awards associate degrees. For more information, call 386-312-4300 or visit online at floarts.org.
Photo caption: FloArts students prepare for “Gypsy,” the mother of all musicals.
Front: Torie D’Alessandro.
Back: L – R: Hannah Johnson, Emely Cuestas, Facia Lee and Logan Cheatham.
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