Let’s be clear: There’s one star, and one star only, in that classic tale of show-business mothers and daughters, Gypsy. And it’s not the legendary strip-tease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s her bulldozer of a stage mother, Mama Rose.
South Valley Civic Theatre sticks to the tried and true formula of the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim musical that opened on Broadway in 1959, centering the production on the vocal strength and acting chops of Ingrid Rottman as Rose, who takes her two young daughters, June and Louise, on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s. When June elopes as a teenager, Rose focuses her dreams of stardom on her shyer daughter Louise, who reluctantly takes on the mantel until she tastes the elixir of fame and bursts out of her chrysalis to become one of the world’s most famous burlesque dancers and singers.
Adrianne Wilkinson directs the SVCT production with a light hand, letting Rottman dominate nearly every scene she’s in, from her family’s rough start in Seattle to Gypsy’s star turns at Minsky’s in New York. Rottman has a huge voice and an onstage personality to match; she is as comfortable in her own skin onstage as any actor I’ve seen in community theater productions lately.
From ”Some People” early in the first act to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” to close that act, Rottman displays a mastery of the songs and the character. Her relationship with Herbie (Scott Lynch), the talent manager who falls for Rose but can never get past her single-minded determination to make her kids into stars, is beautifully handled in “Small World.”
The most charming early scenes focus on Baby June, played with a great deal of poise by 9-year-old Saidee Avila, a first-timer at SVCT with a huge smile and a big voice. Like most child stars of the era, Baby June was channeling Shirley Temple, and Saidee rocks the blonde ringlets, dual batons and splits in “Baby June and Her Newsboys” and “Let Me Entertain You.”
The grown-up versions of June and Louise, played by Lindsay Sommers and Chloe Angst, showcase their mutual affection in “If Mama Was Married;” another bright spot comes from Nick Beddard as Tulsa, who sweeps June off her feet and out of show business. “All I Need is the Girl” gives him a chance to recreate original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins’ work.
Which brings me to Angst, whose metamorphosis from shy, anxious, overlooked sister-to-the-star to superstar herself is remarkable. Angst has a big voice that is underused until very late in the show, which is a shame. She works the strip-tease scenes like a pro, and her curves bring Wilkinson’s costume designs to va-va-voom life.
Music director Carol Harris leads a large and at times on opening night rough-edged orchestra in support of the performers.
South Valley Civic Theatre performs “Gypsy” through July 6 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road. Admission is $16-$25. For tickets and information, visit www.svct.org or call 408.842.7469.