Gypsy at Lyric Stage Bumps It With A Lot of Trumpets

Theater Caps are bite-sized punch-packing capsule reviews by resident theater critic Elaine Liner. Use them as a reminder -- or a teaser, if you procrastinate -- of her full-length reviews in The Mixmaster's weekly sister.

A few days before the opening of Gypsy at Lyric Stage, one of the co-stars went on the lam. Or lamb, as it were.

An 8-week-old sheep borrowed to nestle in Louise's arms for the song "Little Lamb" bolted from its East Dallas sheep-sitters' back yard and was missing for 48 hours. Flyers went up on phone poles and the woolly tale of the missing animal actor spread through Lower Greenville. Eventually, the lamb was found by two neighbors about a mile away and delivered to a Dallas police substation.

By opening night, the fuzzy beast was sheep-shape and diapered up for its appearance, which was right on the mutton, er, button.

"Little Lamb" is a minor tune in the first act of the show but it's the first one that brings young Louise (played at Lyric by Mary McElree) to the fore. She's the untalented daughter of Momma Rose (played by Sue Mathys), a stage mother who makes the moms of Toddlers & Tiaras look like amateurs. Rose obsessively pushes pretty daughter June (Ashton Smalling) into the spotlight, playing dingy fringes of Vaudeville in an act filled out with mismatched moppets. Rose's dream is that June will be discovered by a Minsky or a Ziegfeld. When that happens, Rose gets clingy and June runs away, leaving tomboy Louise in Rose's claws.

As a story of showbiz fever, Gypsy has no equal. It's the great American musical with a solid score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents - maybe the best script ever for a Broadway musical.

Directed and choreographed by Len Pfluger, Lyric's huge production is beautifully sung and acted -- Mathys is a little bit Merman, a whole lotta LuPone - and cast with local singers and dancers (and livestock) who tear up the floor. As Rose's love interest, act manager Herbie, Sonny Franks balances Mathys' big acting style with subtle, sweet emotions. He's a fine singer, too.

The 39-piece orchestra, conducted by Jay Dias, includes a slew of strings, including eight cellos and a harp, and lots of big horns, something you'll never hear anymore, even in big-budget Broadway tours.

This may be your only chance to see Gypsy, the musical bio of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, in a production that's not stripped down musically. The show continues in Irving Arts Center's Carpenter Performance Hall 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Visit lyricstage.org.

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