Peggy Sue Dunigan


By - Sep 29th, 2008 02:52 pm
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This iconic musical retells the story of a show business mother, Rose, and her two daughters, Louise and June. Louise went on to become the Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee. Gypsy: A Musical Fable, provides a softer framing for what June described as a “much darker childhood” than the fable presented in the musical based upon the book by Arthur Laurents.

Gypsy is considered to be one of the greatest American musicals, containing memorable songs and sparking a film and numerous Broadway revivals that continually receive awards. Off the Wall Theatre’s production evokes the feel spoken of in the show’s lyrics: “This world…small… funny… and fine.” The staging, defined with Dale Gutzman’s astute direction, required using every inch in Off the Wall’s elongated, intimate space to capture the larger than life and exceptionally fine performances.

The audience is within a few feet of the stage where Rose, Louise, June, and Herbie (the faithful lover Rose refuses to marry) confront them almost face to face. Created with minimal set design, even portraying the burlesque house with effective restraint, the entire stage frames the extraordinary talent presented in the theater.

Sharon Rise portrays Rose’s complex personality as a person the audience can grow to understand, making it believable that she would lovable in eyes of Herbie and Louise. Rise’s stunning presence illuminates this real life tale, stretching the limits of the quintessential overbearing parent, while Robert Hirschi inhabits Herbie with a compassionate grace without lapsing into sentimentality. Liz Mistele’s blonde June and Alison Mary Forbes’ brunette Louise, who eventually becomes Gypsy Rose Lee, each obey the demands of their mother with reluctant devotion. When June elopes to claim her independence, leaving Louise as their mother’s last hope for stardom, Forbes and Rise cement their chemistry in the musical’s second act. This transformation in the configuration of the characters allows Rise and Forbes to deliver the emotional weight to sustain the production. Rise plays Rose letting go of Louise’s life, one she had once hoped to be her own, completing the formidable task every mother must accomplish when her children reach adulthood.

A host of young performers round out the extraordinary cast, which includes the four-piece musical ensemble directed by Anne Van Deusen. Among the musical delights is “You Gotta Get A Gimmick,” the assorted stories of three strippers performed with delicious humor and accompanied by the audience’s laughter.

While this autobiographical musical reveals the intricate relationship interplay between mother and daughter, the classic story also masks a dysfunctional family that gravely impacted the children’s education and welfare. Underneath the engaging music and comic entertainment, Off the Wall’s production of Gypsy uncovers the fine line between serious encouragement and the dreams parents press on their progeny. Search the sidelines of today’s athletic fields, behind the performing art stage doors, or the homes of Honor Society members to discover contemporary versions of mother Rose. Gypsy questions the ultimate value of parents’ projecting their uncompromising hopes for success on their children.

Off the Wall Theatre’s presentation of Gypsy continues until October 11: 414.327.3552 or

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