Arts & Leisure

Spellbinding, riveting “Gypsy”

COURTNEY HAYS as Louise and Matthew Rangel as Tulsa in Gem Theater’s presentation of “Gypsy,” staged by One More Productions at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove, CA © 2022 Ron Lyon Photo.

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

Be forewarned: the mother of all showbiz mothers is in the house – and what Mama wants, Mama gets.

Loosely based on true events, this rags-to-riches story — only, not in the way you might think – comes to life in “Gypsy,” the newest production presented by Garden Grove’s own Gem Theater, home of the award-winning One More Productions troupe.

Opening in the fading years of the Vaudeville stage, “Gypsy” spins the tale of twoyoung sisters – but moreso, that of the driving force of nature that is their mother, Mama Rose (Adriana Sanchez).

Backstage at a variety show, the weary Uncle Jocko (Chris Harper, in one of a number of colorful roles) is struggling with his show’s lineup when Rose swoops in to take control, spotlighting her vivacious daughter “Baby” June (Erica Gonzalez) and to a lesser degree her shy, mousy daughter Louise (Kylie Stewart).

At another venue afterwards, the single mother and her girls meet traveling candy salesman Herbie (Jon Michell), a former agent who knows some of the ins-and-outs of the vaudeville circuit: seizing the opportunity, the persuasive mom convinces the empathetic gentleman to act as their manager – and for maybe a little bit more than just a professional relationship.

ADRIANA SANCHEZ as Mama Rose. © 2022 Ron Lyon Photo

Years passing, the determined Mama is always tinkering with the show (though all versions seem to use the same basic melody … and lyrics…) As the show evolves into “Dainty June and Her Farmboys” the now adolescent June and Louise (Hannah Clair and Courtney Hays) endure their mother’s unrelenting determination to shove her children into the spotlight, despite the onset of the Great Depression and rapidly accelerating demise of vaudeville entertainment.

All the while the patient, long-suffering Herbie burning the candle at both ends and doing damage control as best he can as he has to repeatedly renegotiate with venue managers, struggling to put out the fires lit thanks to Rose’s abrasive approach and inability to compromise – even if she insists she’s only doing it for her daughters.

But time waits for no one, not even Mama: for her daughters, both starlet June … as well as the figurative “ugly duckling” Louise … are growing up, as vehemently as she might deny it. And it’s only a matter of time before they’ll need to spread their wings …

Director Damien Lorton and the One More Productions cast and crew at the Gem Theater have brought a stellar season to a triumphant close with “Gypsy.” Adriana Sanchez is a whirlwind, with a performance that is nothing less than a mesmerizing, powerful study of love held hostage by misplaced ambition: as Mama Rose forges endlessly towards that distant dream of her daughters’ success – regardless the upheaval to her family, or the emotional wreckage she leaves in her wake.

Clair’s portraylal of the effervescent “Dainty June” is beautifully nuanced: she may be the headliner, but we see the exhaustion and toll that Rose’s unyielding drive to push forward with the show takes on not only just her, but the whole of their theatrical family.

Jon Michell’s Herbie is a beautifully portrayed, poignant, if slightly tragic figure: an everyman, heroically struggling not only to make Rose happy, but to take care of their showbiz family/entourage despite her questionable decisions.

That extended family includes the “boys” from the act, including dancers Angie, LA and Yonkers (Erik Diaz, Nate Nolen and Reid Harris) as well as the gentle, charming Tulsa (Matthew Rangel) – all of whom add their outstanding singing and dancing talents to the numbers, thanks to the exceptional choreography of Angela Mattern, Lexi Cross and Shauna Bradford. (Of particular note is the moving, stylish number choreographed by Bradford, “All I Need Is the Girl”, gracefully executed by Rangel’s Tulsa and Hays’ Louise.)

The audience is privy to a fascinating metamorphosis of Louise over the course of the show: and Courtney Hays’ performance is breathtaking. In one particularly vital, spotlit moment of crisis, we see so many little emotions play out over her face — that terror she struggles to overcome, those tattered shreds of childhood innocence smoldering, falling away… until she rises triumphantly from the ashes, transformed.

There are far too many standout performances in the show to single out without giving too many spoilers, for those who don’t know the tale already: but other highlights include Max Seigel as Mr. Goldstone (amongst other roles in the show), as well as the sympathetic and colorful exotic dancers Mazeppa, Electra and Agnes played by Alexandra Kyte, Cassidy Love and Hailey Mogul…with a special nod and a wink to the “Toreadorables” and the “Card Girls/Boys.” “Gypsy” at the Gem Theater is without a doubt one of the best shows in OC this year, and certainly a pinnacle of the One More Productions company’s stagings: and with so much to look forward to with the coming season (as well as the special after shows upstairs at the Gem in “Bobbie’s Lounge,” featuring some of the singular and stand-out talent of OMP), “Gypsy” is a phenomenal way to close out 2022, and prepare for more great musical theater in the New Year.

“Gypsy.” Adriana Sanchez, Courtney Hays and Hannah Clair star in this (mostly) true story of misplaced love and hunger for fame. Playing through Dec. 18 now with some Saturday matinees added! – at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, 92840. Call (714) 741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information.

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