Among its numerous distinctions, the Secret Theatre may be New York City’s best Off-Off-Broadway producer of big musicals in small spaces. No matter the talent available, Gypsy will present any such company with one of its greatest challenges: large cast, live-theater theme, powerhouse music, and one of Broadway’s toughest and most iconic roles in Mama Rose. Fortunately Gotham has no shortage of top stage talent, and Gypsy, with its book by Arthur Larents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is a can’t-miss when done well – as it is in the Secret Theatre’s sinewy new production.
Marcie Henderson builds her Rose from equal parts youthful energy and gritty gravitas, shouldering the heavy weight of expectation with powerful acting and singing, smoky charisma, and a bang-up climactic solo number. Mary Lauren is a polished, affecting Louise, transforming sleekly from mousy tomboy to notorious burlesque star. Triple-threat Taylor Elise Rector is a strong-voiced, spit-and-vinegar Dainty June.
Among the other numerous impressive performances, Gregory Omar Osborne dances magnificently as Tulsa, Blayne Gregg-Miller wins us over as a squeaky-voiced Tessie Tura, Greg Horton convinces warmly as the long-suffering Herbie, and Olivia Culver’s icicle-sharp Baby June centers a talented batch of children.
Rick Hamilton’s agile direction glues it all together by making smart use of the wide shallow stage and blocking the numbers such that, most of the time, we can hear the unamplified singing over music director Michael Liepper’s band. Kami Seymour’s spunky, funny choreography, hewing close to the show’s original spirit, is also crucial to the production’s success.
Any tuner this monumental is likely to emerge rough around the edges in such a small space. But the chips on the polish are small and few. The scrappy Secret Theatre, whose snazzy production of Cabaret was a highlight of the season last year, has done well by another classic big musical. Gypsy runs through March 3 at the Secret Theater in Queens, an easy and quick subway ride from Manhattan. Buy tickets online or at 718-392-0277.