There never was a stage mother before or since who was as horrifying as Rose Horvick, the tyrant at the heart of Gypsy, the Tony Award-winning 1959 musical that will bring South Valley Civic Theatre’s 50th anniversary season to a close.
Gypsy, loosely based on the memoirs of strip-tease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, made famous such tunes as “Let Me Entertain You,” “Small World” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Mama Rose has been played by Broadway powerhouses from Ethel Merman to Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone. Although it won no Tony Awards in its initial Broadway run, subsequent revivals have yielded trophies.
In Morgan Hill, Ingrid Rottman will play Mama Rose, with Chloe Angst in the title role and Lindsay Summers as her more-talented sister June.
The story begins on the vaudeville circuit in Seattle, as Rose powers ahead with the budding careers of her two daughters, June and Louise. Louise is the shy one; June is more suited to the stage. But when June elopes, Mama Rose’s attention turns to Louise, who becomes Gypsy Rose.
The SVCT pairing of Rottman with Angst seemed preordained.
“When I read with her, she gave me everything I needed,” Rottman said of her audition with Angst.
Both women have strong vocal backgrounds—Rottman is a professional singer; Angst studied vocal performance at Sacramento State—and bear enough physical resemblance to make a mother-daughter relationship plausible.
Angst, who commutes from Fremont to Morgan Hill for the show, said Gypsy is a show she’s wanted to be in since she was a little girl, and Louise a role she’s wanted to play for years.
“When I was young, what drew me to the show was it had kids in it,” she said. “As I got older, I realized how perfect the story is. It’s a lot deeper than it was when I was a kid. And my mother was never a Mama Rose.”
With her opera background, she said, the role vocally “hasn’t been too much of a challenge. It’s definitely more of an acting role than a singing role.”
Angst relates well to Louise before her transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee.
“I’m very much like Louise. I’m quiet and awkward,” she said. “I’m a tomboy, mostly like Louise before she became a stripper.”
But, she said before donning glittery high-heeled shoes for rehearsal, “I’m excited to be sparkly.”
Mama Rose provides her own challenges to the actor portraying her.
“Rose is all over the place,” Rottman said. “She’s multifaceted, manipulative. … What I really like about her is she’ll do just about anything for her kids. I’m a lot like Mama Rose—I’ll tell my kids, ‘You are good, but there will always be somebody better.’ ”
Adrianne Wilkinson, who appeared in SVCT’s 2017 production of Vanya, Sonia, Sasha and Spike, and was producer for the 2018 production of Guys and Dolls, this time is wearing hats as director, costume designer and set designer. She sees directing as “a chance to help others find something within themselves that they didn’t know they had.”
Gypsy is a directing challenge, she said, because “it’s almost too big; you’ve got to tone it down a little.”
Wilkinson loves shows with historical underpinnings. For Gypsy, she said, “I made our Rose read the biography of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother,” part of a background study to make characters real on the stage. And she can relate to Mama Rose’s singleness of purpose.
“I think the real thing is Rose’s love of stardom,” she said. “Mama Rose is addicted to getting her kids to be stars.”
The production also stars Scott Lynch as Mama Rose’s love interest Herbie, Nick Bedford as Tulsa, Saidee Avila as Baby June and Veronica Hinch as Young Louise. Carol Harris is music and vocal director, and Valerie Valenzuela is choreographing the show.
The director said Gypsy closes SVCT’s season with a show that “is a tribute to relationships, and a tribute to theater and to passion. It’s a show all about theater. To have this as our final show is, I think, pretty great.”
And, she notes, it’s nice to wrap up the season with a female-centric show. The company’s shows this year have been more male-focused—Aladdin Jr., It’s a Wonderful Life, Godspell and 1776.
“It’s nice for the girls to have their turn,” she said.
The 2019-2020 season will tilt toward the girls, with Cinderella, Steel Magnolias, Heathers, Cabaret and Beauty and the Beast.
South Valley Civic Theatre performs “Gypsy” June 14-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.