Powerful vocals buoy brilliant production of Gypsy at Boca’s Wick Theatre

If you intend to follow in the footsteps of powerful-voiced actress/singer Ethel Merman, you’d best do more than vocalize.  You’ve got to BELT!

If you’re looking for a group of great belters and a show inspired by the likes of Ms. Merman and her flock, check out the Wick Theatre’s production of Gypsy that continues through Feb. 13.

The show is as flawless, well-acted, superbly danced and extraordinarily sung as any show performed on that Boca Raton venue’s stage since it opened eight years ago.

Really, who could ask for anything more? A cast of 28 people — talented actors with terrific singing and dancing skills along with youngsters sporting obvious capabilities – join forces in a performance that earns thunderous applause and multiple standing ovations for its superb level of entertainment.

Melissa Whitworth in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Created by a triumvirate of theatrical giants, Gypsy is considered by many critics to be the greatest musical ever written. The groundbreaking show, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Broadway phenom Stephen Sondheim, debuted on Broadway in 1959.

Loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous, sophisticated stripper — call her an ecdysiast, she used to proclaim. She transformed a tawdry trade into an elegant entertainment style that lifted her above run-of-the-mill bump and grinders.

Laura Hodos in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

The musical focuses on Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Rose – portrayed with top-notch style and vocal capability by three-time Carbonell nominee Laura Hodos — whose character has become synonymous with the pushiest of “stage door moms.” 

This is the quintessential American musical featuring an incredible list of classic songs, including ‘Together Wherever We Go,’ ‘Let Me Entertain You,’ ‘All I Need Is the Girl,’ and ‘Rose’s Turn,’” said Marilynn Wick, managing executive director. 

“But beyond the music,” she added, “the show is a powerfully dramatic production, and the role of Rose is one of the greatest theatrical characters of all time.”

Laura Hodos and Matthew Korinko in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Returning to direct this power-packed production is Broadway’s Norb Joerder, who has helmed more than a dozen shows at Wick, including The Music ManCrazy for You and 42nd Street, among others.

Gypsy is a classic backstage story of vaudeville in its waning days and of a mother who lives her unfulfilled life and dreams through her children – pushing them until one of them (June) bolts into a marriage of convenience and escape while the other, Louise, the long-overlooked and less-loved child, remains behind, but continues to live a maudlin and unfulfilled existence while Mama Rose keeps calling the shots.

Melissa Whitworth and Laura Hodos in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Audiences at the Wick will recognize a gang of A-list performers, among them, four-time Carbonell Award nominee Matthew Korinko as Herbie and Melissa Whitworth as the older Louise. 

Most folks in the audience will likely forget they are wearing required masks, as the show draws them into a world of actors struggling for billing and notoriety. Rose and her two daughters, Baby June (Alejandra Bess or Addie Jaymes) and young Louise (Lyla Chaubal or Gaby Lopez) play the vaudeville circuit in the early 1920s. Rose is aggressive and domineering, pushing her children to perform. 

Kristi Rose Mills in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

While June is an extroverted, talented child star, Louise is shy. The kiddie act has one song, “May We Entertain You” that they sing incessantly, with June as the centerpiece and Louise often cast as one of the “boys.” (“Baby June and Her Newsboys”) 

When Rose meets a former agent turned candy salesman, Herbie, she persuades him to become their manager using her seductive and feminine wiles (“Small World”).

The show roars on at high speed as the now-extended family railroads cross-country looking for gigs in a world where vaudeville is on the skids. They end up at a strip joint – the only place Herbie could arrange a booking. It’s here that Louise, reluctantly at first, accepts her fate as a strip tease star – and eventually seems to like it. Suddenly, “Let Me Entertain You” bounds from childish romp to adult, boa-flinging theme.

It also sets the stage for the tune that truly puts Hodos to the test – “Rose’s Turn,” during which she fanatically grabs for the fame that has slipped through her fingers – and is now embodied in Louise – renamed Gypsy Rose Lee. 

Hodos fulfills her finale song with emotion, rage and wrath, though reconciliation with Louise seems close at hand.

If anything, the show concludes by transforming the song, “Everything’s Coming up Roses” into Mama’s anthem.

Melissa Whitworth, Mallory Newbrough, Aaron Bower and Britte Steele in Gypsy at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Director Joerder states, “I am continually astonished by the depth of the story, the characters and [Stephen Sondheim’s] wonderful lyrics. It is my privilege to pay tribute to Mr. Sondheim, whom we lost this past Thanksgiving.”

Joining the squad of talented youngsters are veteran performers Troy Stanley in at least three roles; Wayne LeGette in a pair of parts; Kristi Rose Mills, who excellently portrays Dainty Rose, and Christopher Patterson, silky smooth as dance captain who performs some noteworthy terpsichorean efforts.

Three tremendous singers laugh it up as a trio of strippers who use gimmicks to deliver the goods: Mallory Newbrough, Aaron Bower and Britt Steele. The latter duo showed their enviable vocal skills in Wick’s 2021 musical, Mamma Mia, and Newbrough copped a Carbonell here at Wick for her Janis Joplin vocal set in Beehive.

Gypsy runs through Feb. 13 at the Wick Theater, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets are $85-$95, available at www.thewick.org or by calling the box office at 561-995-2333.

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