Everything’s coming up Toby’s! Everything’s coming up— TOBY’S! Let them entertain you with their stunning, thrilling, exciting, and magical production of Gypsy. Directed by Mark Minnick and Toby Orenstein with Musical Direction by Ross Scott Rawlings, the truth of a brilliant story is told in earnest, with the heart of that gripping tale at the forefront of the show creating honest theatrical magic for everyone who comes to the table and lets the cast and crew of Gypsy entertain them. A cherished classic with beloved musical numbers and a captivating narrative, Toby’s Gypsy is the perfect heartwarming winter’s tale to beat out those blustery mid-season blues.
With a story like Gypsy, whose sensible, emotionally accessible lyrics could only be the masterwork of Stephen Sondheim, it takes a seasoned hand, skilled know-how, and raw passion to prevent the dated nature of the time-honored classic from shining through in this production. Directors Mark Minnick and Toby Orenstein have exactly that sharply honed skill set to push Gypsy onto the stage with a radiant pulse of effervescence whilst maintaining the truth at the core of the show’s narrative. Minnick’s signature choreography, though still present throughout the production in small doses, takes a backseat to the storytelling. Dancing is crisp and effective, without the heaviness of being splashy or showy. It is most prominently experienced during Tulsa’s big breakout number, “All I Need is the Girl.”
Minnick and Orenstein run a tight ship with this production of Gypsy. Scenes don’t drag, scenes changes are slick as lightning, and from the moment the narrative gets underway, there is something engaging or thrilling happening on the stage to captivate the audience’s attention. Honing in on little moments, with personal connections between characters is what sets this production apart from others; Minnick and Orenstein’s vast and intimate knowledge of how to work in their unique ‘in-the-round’ space serves the production divinely as well. The Co-Directors’ casting choices are on the mark for every role from the leading lady right down to the strategic doubling and tripling of the ensemble members. The production possesses a polished finesse of the Broadway caliber and crackles with old world theatrical magic that simply cannot be denied.
Set Designer David A. Hopkins shies away from grandeur with this production, fixing a spotlight on the story, and it’s a beautiful concept. The walls around the space are painted up in brick, just like the backstage of any theatre. As most of the show’s setting unfolds backstage in some theatre house or other, this is an appropriately functional choice. Properties Mistress Amy Kaplan works with Hopkins to create an extravagant “Angel Float” for Gypsy Rose Lee once she starts her exotic strip-tease tour. Complete with gossamer wings, a halo stand-post, and celestial stars, the rolling platform is heavenly and really adds class to that scene. Throw in Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin’s seasoned expertise and up pops antique floor-floods in row-banks to create the proper illusion of old-time theatres. Her use of strobe lighting throughout the production is deliberately rationed and most effective when it comes to transforming the young dancers of “Baby June and her Newsboys” to “Dainty June and her Newsboys.” The aesthetic side of the production showcases experience, artful arrangement, and a keen understanding of how the story’s narrative works as a theatrical device for the in-the-round space and would not be half as successful without the skillful talents of Hopkins, Kaplan, and Joslin.
Colors, patterns, and a few extra gimmicks come into play for the show’s vast array of costumes, compliments of Costume Designer Janine Sunday. Everything from the saccharine pageantry type outfits featured on Baby June and the young kids to the more outlandish, albeit tatty, piecemeal togs seen on the grown-up performing troupe of ‘Toreadorables’, Sunday has a handle on variety and fits the costumes well to each of the cast members. There is a dowdy style of a struggling mother, which is perfect for Rose, a polished and respectable yet impoverished feel to Herbie’s suits. The outrageous outfits used to set Mazeppa, Electra, and Tessie Tura apart from others in the business are too much for words, especially when it comes to the blinding vibrancy of Tessie Tura’s butterfly wings. Ultimately the show’s sartorial selections are perfect, and Sunday deserves great praise for pulling them all together.
Minnick and Orenstein’s ensemble, with exceptional musical direction provided by Ross Scott Rawlings, is filled with the joy of telling their story, living the Gypsy experience, and entertaining the masses with open hearts and truthful feelings. Everyone from the youth ensemble (at this performance Hannah Dash, Jackson Smith, and Cooper Trump) and Baby June (Nina Brothers) and Baby Louise (Maddie Ellinghaus) is loaded with enthusiastic spirit. Brothers (who shares the role on alternating performances with Camde Lippert) is a precocious, shrieking, squealing bundle of talent, who cannot resist belting out her solos during “Baby June and Her Newsboys” in addition to her impressive tumblesaults and full-split acrobatic tricks. The simplicity of the choreography Minnick uses with the children makes for crisp, clean stage fun during their prancing routine complete with many of the aforementioned fascinating costumes.
Toby’s classics like Russell Sunday, David James, Jeffrey Shankle, and Coby Kay Callahan, find little moments to imbue the story with their passion. Sunday, James, and Shankle in particular are a rolling carousel of crackpot background characters who add spice to the scenes. Sunday’s most notable portrayal being Mr. Kringelein, the incensed and exotically accented hotel manager, whilst Shankle sinks his teeth into the goofy, child-loathing Uncle Jocko. James delivers a barrel of laughs during “Mr. Goldstone” without ever uttering a word and becomes a living, animated prop that enhances the humor of this song using only facial expressions and exasperating body language. Callahan’s character cameo as Cratchit takes the cake with her spitfire temperament, impeccable comedic timing on one-line zingers, and overall pinched and sour demeanor when interacting with Rose and company. Household treasure Robert Biedermann gruffly but truthfully growls his way through tough moments with Rose as Pops, and Maggie Dransfield should also be praised for her inane, bubbly cameo as Agnes during the second act.
The boys— Tulsa (Shiloh Orr), Yonkers (Justin Calhoun), Angie (AJ Whittenberger) and L.A. (James Mernin)— carry the weight of the show’s dance routines, and deliver Nascar-paced costume changes, particularly during “Dainty June and Her Farmboys” as it transitions to “Broadway.” Creating quirky characters in the skins of these boys who just want to make it on the stage, Orr, Calhoun, Whittenberger, and Mernin craft lovely harmonies when they sing in the aforementioned numbers, and play well off one another. Orr, is the starry-eyed dreamer Tulsa, gets to showcase his dancing prowess during “All I Need is the Girl.” With a magnificent series of twirls and turns, and a bit of the classy old soft shoe, Orr brings a smooth, sharp attitude to match his moves and his vocals in this number. With a dash of debonair, Orr fabricates this dream dance into a vivid reality for all to experience.
When it comes to scene-stealing thunder, you’ll find it in the trio of ecdysiasts seen in the second act! Before those scenes even get underway, theatrical reimagining (compliments of Minnick’s vision and Hopkins’ execution) of a split staging space enter the scene. Sheer black ribbon curtains of a translucent variety segment a fraction of the stage, successfully creating the illusion of an “on-stage” and “backstage” divided space. The backstage and dressing room area is where we encounter the spiky Miss Tessie Tura (Elizabeth Rayca) among others. (Watch Maggie Dransfield as Amanda-Agnes in this scene because her reaction to newly found ‘jewelry’ is a riot!) Rayca, who is but one third of the evening’s sassy entertainment in these scenes, has a fantastic accent that speaks volumes about her character. When she flits and floats her way through the iconic number, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” it brings some much needed comic relief to a heartfelt show that is guided by emotional gravitas. Joining the graceful burlesque butterfly is Electra (Heather Beck), who is a blinding bright spot among the dreary underbelly of burlesque. Both Beck and Rayca really push it to the limit in the aforementioned number, giving the audience a feel-good, laugh-out-loud number to enjoy.
But the brass crown hanging over that entire scene and number is Tina Marie DeSimone as Mazeppa, and she’s packing enough brass to knockout all of Kansas. Pluck, punch, and panache do not begin to describe the confidence and bravado that DeSimone exudes in this number, strutting through “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” with unwavering pride. Her gruff-and-tumble vocals fit the number superbly and only enhance the attitude she brings to the character when it’s time for her to bump it— and she really bumps it with that trumpet! Selling the number, riling up the audience for good measure, and slaying the song with ferocious intensity, DeSimone owns Mazeppa with clear-cut confidence for miles. Hands down, outside of Rose herself, DeSimone’s Mazeppa is arguably one of the best features in this production of Gypsy.
Though her stage time is brief, Dainty June (Louisa Tringali) leaves a lasting impact on the audience in addition to leaving her footprint on the narrative heart of the tale. Tringali boasts a vocal prowess that is perfect for the character, and does her best to match the energy and enthusiasm as put forth by Baby June in the earlier scenes. Tringali even manages to capture the shrill squeals for which Baby June is most noted, though produces a more mature tonality when singing. Packing a summer’s worth of campiness into her number “Broadway”, Tringali creates two distinctive sides of Dainty June— the one her mother wants to see on stage— and the one who is desperate to be her own individual. Tringali masterfully separates these two sides of the character, and the transition between the two is seen most clearly during the office scene she shares with Louise (MaryKate Brouillet.) There is a vigorous moment of heart-pouring before the pair enter a surprisingly sisterly duet, “If Momma Was Married”, where their harmonies blend delightfully together to carry out the bittersweet intentions of the song.
Astonishing character transformations explode out of MaryKate Brouillet’s Louise, creating a riveting story behind the character. Brouillet, who starts off as the timid and meager mousy version of Louise, succinctly defines each step of the character’s path with an outburst here, a growth spurt of confidence there, and ultimately evolves Louise from mealy-mouthed mouse into a ravishing, scintillating Gypsy Rose Lee. Not only is Brouillet’s transformation of Louise a physically visible one, but her growth is readily witnessed in her vocality and the way she sings Louise’s songs. “Little Lamb” is a delicate, mournful lullaby of crushed hopes and vacant dreams, while “Gypsy Strip Routine”, which features a myriad of locations and dazzling costumes, is a bombastic and seductive assault on the senses, fully transitioning mouse to magnificent. Brouillet is grounded in the character and finally comes into her own against Rose at the show’s conclusion; this is a most rewarding feat for the audience to experience.
Sweet dopey, gooey, hopelessly romantic Herbie (David Bosley-Reynolds) is a perfect foil for Rose. Bosley-Reynolds is congenial, heartfelt, and overall a perfect fit for the Herbie character. There’s a thin layer of cautious exterior that Bosley-Reynolds drapes over Herbie when first encountering Rose, but that soon dissolves into this sappy, sentimental man who could live and die for Rose, even when he knows in his heart of hearts she’s in the wrong. Without artifice or pretense, Bosley-Reynolds brings the honesty of Herbie’s intentions and overall existence to the forefront of his portrayal, expressing raw feelings in small doses throughout the performance. When he sings in duet alongside of Rose for “Small World” and “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” and later in a trio with the addition of Louise for “Together Wherever We Go” there is a conviviality to the way he harmonizes and moves through these number. The gut-punching, heart-breaking moment is simply watching the shift in his facial expressions and body language at the end of the production; a truly transformative and shattering moment that Bosley-Reynolds insures that the audience feels deeply.
Mamma’s doin’ fine— mamma’s goin’ strong— mamma’s taking up every breath of air in the whole theatre because Cathy Mundy is a tour du force in the leading lady role of Rose. Larger than life itself, and occupying every molecule of space on the stage, around the stage, and all throughout the house, Mundy’s Rose is the incomparable titular character— a true lost and wandering soul who just desperately wants to push her dreams into reality. From the moment she enters the scene and tells off Uncle Jocko, through to her very last dreamed up vision of a poster in the show’s final moments, Mundy dominates the stage in an unrelenting torrent of passion, conviction, heart and soul, and emotional truth. She’s loud. She’s pushy. She’s perfect. With vocal command that could stop a train, Mundy has unstoppable drive from the word go and even at her most exhausted and most broken, her determination never falters, her inspiration never wavers. The versatility that Mundy displays is phenomenal. Casting her spellbinding magic over Herbie, and really everyone in the audience, Mundy’s Rose is the performance of a lifetime. Knowing how to balance the character comes easy to Mundy; the sheer tomfoolery and fun of “Mr. Goldstone” plays in perfect opposition to the explosive and cataclysmic heart-pour of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Mundy steals the show time and again with Rose’s potent personality and unrelenting nature. “Rose’s Turn” is stunning, simply put, and wraps up the character and the show’s narrative in one sensational song. Cathy Mundy is exceptionally brilliant as Rose and must not be missed this theatrical season.
Let Toby’s Dinner Theatre entertain you. Let them show you all their raw talent, their heartfelt stories, and their perfectly cast production of Gypsy. You will be entertained, and you’ll be sore and sorry if you miss it. Theatrical magic at its finest, don’t miss Gypsy at Toby’s Dinner Theatre this season.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission