For its final show of the summer, State College Community Theatre will feature a classic golden age musical from Broadway.
“Gypsy” will be presented at The State Theatre, Aug. 20-23.
Inspired by the 1957 memoirs of famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, “Gypsy” is the story of Rose and her two daughters, June and Louise. The focus is on “Mama” Rose, whose name has become synonymous with “stage mother.”
This SCCT production is directed by Jason Poorman, with choreography by Katie Kensinger, music direction by Colleen Kennedy and production by Bonnie Spetzer and Ellysa Cahoy. The large cast includes Martha Traverse as Rose, Lisa Rogali as Louise, Natalie Giannotti as June, Rick Gilmore as Herbie and Kathleen Shondeck as Mazeppa.
Following the dreams and efforts of Rose to raise her two daughters to perform onstage, “Gypsy” spotlights the hardships of show business life.
“Rose is determined that her daughters — particularly the younger June — will make it big on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s,” Poorman said. “This determination to make her daughters into stars drives the plot of the entire show.”
The musical features memorable songs that became popular standards, including “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” “Together (Wherever We Go),” “Some People,” “Let Me Entertain You,” “All I Need Is the Girl” and “Rose’s Turn.”
At first, Rose focuses on the younger, cuter June. But when June runs off to marry her beau, Tulsa, Rose concentrates on her other daughter, Louise. Filled with hidden talent, Louise becomes a star.
“Rose is a force of nature — a never-say-die powerhouse of determination,” Traverse said. “She is both lovable and hate-able. She’ll do whatever it takes to get to the rainbow’s pot of gold — stardom for her daughters.”
Along the way, Rose meets a man named Herbie who becomes an agent for the daughters and a love interest for Rose. Eventually, June grows tired of the act and runs away, leaving Rose, Herbie and Louise with only each other. Rose, still a determined stage mother, plows forward and decides to make Louise into the star.
A former professional in musical theater, Traverse’s first appearance as a young member of Actors’ Equity was in “Take Me Along” with the legendary Gene Kelly. Other professional roles include Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!”on Broadway. Her favorite local performances include Dotty in “Noises Off” at the Mischler Theatre in Altoona, Old Lady/Blair Daniels in “Sunday in the Park with George” with Penn State’s School of Theatre and Dolly Levi in SCCT’s “Hello, Dolly.”
Traverse said she relates to Rose’s good-humored tenacity, as well as to her fighting spirit.
“We both like to be in charge, do the talking and draw attention to ourselves,” she said. “And we both are women replete with inner conflict and more than a few secrets.”
Currently a music education major at Penn State, Rogali has performed in both opera and musical theater productions throughout her career as a student. She hopes to continue with her studies in graduate school in opera performance. Rogali was last seen on the Eisenhower stage as Musetta in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Cosette in “Les Miserables.”
Constantly pushed into the background by her mother, Louise undergoes the most character development throughout the show.
“By the end, she becomes the infamous burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, filled with confidence and hidden talent,” Rogali said. “This is a role I have always wanted to portray because I relate to her character so much.”
“Gypsy” began rehearsals July 13, so the cast has had the opportunity to delve into the show and help bring the characters to life.
“ ‘Gypsy’ is the largest show that I’ve had the opportunity to work on, and it has been a sometimes challenging, but always rewarding experience that I’m extremely proud to be working on,” Poorman said.
Taking cues for the musical itself, Poorman’s concept for the show is to play up the inherent theatricality of “Gypsy.”
“It’s a show about doing shows, and that allows us to create a fun backstage look and sensibility for the production,” he said. “Part of my inspiration also came from having the opportunity to perform in an old vaudeville theater, The Garman Opera House, when I was getting my start in local theater. That sense of atmosphere and history continues to inspire me.”
Poorman hopes that the audience will walk away from the show feeling like they’ve been entertained, with a story that’s both comic and dramatic, and one that also features one of the best scores of any musical.
“It’s one of my favorite musicals, and I hope that it will become one of the audience’s too,” he said. “One of the most memorable songs in the show is ‘Let Me Entertain You,’ and I hope that by the time the curtain closes, we will have done just that!”