You have to hand it to Richard Israel and his crew over at West Coast Ensemble Theatre, they have stones. They join the ranks of small theatres in LA that have put on “Big Musicals.” The Production Company put on a very credible Sweeney Todd and earned well-deserved praise. The Los Angeles Musical Theatre has put on several shows, including West Side Story, Chess, even Oklahoma (although that was a failure). But Gypsy is by many considered “the best musical ever written,” with a book by the late Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Stine, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Even if you don’t totally agree with that assessment you must agree that the overture to Gypsy is a masterwork. o, how did it work?
The overture, and much of the music, was more than a disappointment, it was a disaster, with lots of ugly notes and false rhythms. Some songs like “Some People” worked well but whether it was lack of rehearsal or just bad musicianship, the orchestra stunk. It would have been better to use a prerecorded tape (certainly not in vogue considering the flap over Priscilla on Broadway) but with a tape and a pianist the songs would have been better served.
What about the rest? Well, all the kids and young adults were splendid. The Tulsa (Eric Allen Smith) was very good. Herbie (Michael Matthys) made a sympathetic foil. Stephanie Wall was a nearly perfect Louise. Jan Sheldrick was a worthy Rose. Often the performers were derailed by the music but they were troupers and made the best of the situation. With rehearsal and more playing, they will be even better.
The Strippers weren’t as memorable as ones I have seen in the past but the humor was still there thanks to Sondheim’s lyrics. Richard Israel did a nice job of directing. I was puzzled by his decision to cut dialogue during Louise’s strip and Tulsa’s dance. But Israel made the most of this stripped-down show.
Even with the problems, I enjoyed myself and salute their efforts. Gypsy will play at the Theatre of Arts Arena Stage until July 3.