As this amazing production comes to a close and we celebrate the coming New Year, I have a few moments to describe what my emotional cerebrum felt from the two performances of Porchlight Music Theatre's "GYPSY: A Musical Fable."
I left the Ruth Paige Center For The Arts, emotionality wrecked! In a very good way.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the plot line of GYPSY, It’s pretty much summed up as the ultimate bat shit crazy Stage Mother, who will sacrifice everything to keep her and her children in show business. What separates this particular version of "The Great White Way" classic is this production is done with a majority of a cast of color, with the main characters being an African-American family. (Shout Out to Porchlight)
The strong stage mother "Madam Rose" (E. Faye Butler) who give us Black Mother REALNESS!, the entire two hours and forty minutes. Ms. Butler furnished us with a combination of the best Back Hollywood Mothers in the likes of; Jenifer Lewis, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Angela Basset, Jo’Marie Payton, Janet Hubert, and more. Michael Webber’s (Porchlight Artistic Director) direction on this particular piece is flawless, After seeing fifteen broadway productions this year, it's certain Gypsy has nailed it shut for me. From the opening scene throughout the entire adventure Webbers direction is at the forefront of this production, from the opening scene of Baby Louise remembering her childhood in the Vaudeville theater I was hooked in seconds by the fierce master class given by young (Jillian Giselle), this little lady has a bright future ahead of her.
As we shift our way through the story of the crazy stage Mother, who is always referred to as Madam Rose, or Momma by those who she employs, but never pays!
Something we often see in stage plays.
Butler has a way of connecting some of her own stage history into this story, I'm sure because her performance came second nature to her, and was entirely to real to be unbelievable. Butler continues to hold the audience in the palm of her hands, throughout the entire adventure. As Momma Rose displays her hard working diligence to keep these kids booked! It amazes me how Rose always kept a core group around her, who maybe didn't believe in her dream, but would sure keep it going. From her father, to her manager, and to her never to be wed husband Herby. Momma Rose says over and over “I had a dream” about this, and about this! it's clear Rose was a dreamer, and mover and shaker, Butler's performance is a must see.
As the production progresses, and things pick up for Momma Rose and the kids, dreaming up new shows, to shop round to the Vaudeville circuit, it just seems as if Rose could never get things right for her self, taking a deeper looking into her character Rose has suffered from something that most African-American families deal with, abandonment. Resulting in a single parent home. Perhaps it's Madam Rose who is possibly trying to fill the void of her mother walking out at such a young age. Probable cause for her overprotection of her girls and the perpetual reason as to why she won't let her girls go! Always referring to them as babies and forcing them to remain nine and a half years old. What I love about this story is how Mothers will make something out of nothing. We see the troupe in a single hotel room making due and growing older, Let me point out the costume design at this point. I've never seen such amazing bed clothes in a show, actually the entire costume plot of the show is a total step up from the last Porchlight main stage Memphis. Gypsy literally dances from scene to scene not just the on stage performers but the sets, the lighting, the costuming it all moves, I haven't seen transitions this flawless since Michael Bennett's Dreamgirls on Broadway.
Not only is E. Faye mesmerizing the audience, Louise (Daryn Whitney Harrell) who's always in the background, finally gets her moment out front, not that she ever asked for it. I literally tried to find words to describe Harrell's
performance as Louise, after much thought And seeing her in two performances “Empeciabicle” came to mind. Harrell use the entire space to breathe life into Louise, she's engaged in everything, Not realizing her talent until later on in the show, This girl turned up the heat for every African- American Chicago actress. We see Louise's transformation from shy, timid, supportive daughter and sibling, into diva, a grown woman who can do what ever she wants. The supportive actors also all held their own on stage as well. I'm certain it's almost impossible to be in a scene with Harrell and not feel the heat she brings!
Which brings me to Tulsa (Marco Tzunux) the brave boy who takes off from the act falls in Love with June (later mentioned), to start their own act!
As act one comes to a close of course Momma Rose has a dream, and E. Faye Nails us to the floor with the classic Broadway anthem "Everything's Coming up Roses" I needed the fifteen minute intermission to process what I had just saw on stage, I sure wasn't ready for the turn act two would bring. In Act 2 we are floored with an amazing performance by Herbie (JOSÉ ANTONIO GARCÍA)
It’s certainly hard to stand next to thee E. Faye Buttler and not hold your own. The love Herbie has for Rose, is something every creative artist needs, someone who will support the dream, and believe in that dream even if it is a cow that Moos. The depressing part is that Rose wouldn’t even marry him, because she didn’t want to face retirement. There is plenty of meat on this bone, as creatives we will shut everyone out just to keep working! This is an unhealthy habit we’ve hurt people, only because they “gotten” in the way of the dream. When in actually those people just like Herbie are trying to save us from ourselves. Creative artist apologize to the Herbie’s you’ve hurt in your lifetime. Dainty June (Aalon Smith) although on stage for a short time! Is the second person to abandon her mother Madam Rose, when you have dreams for yourself even tho you’re amazly talented sometimes you have to break away. I feel as if June didn’t want to be a performer, it was something that was forced upon her. The girls exclaim in “If Momma Was Married” the things they would get rid of. Parents often push their kids to far and the kids end up hurting their feelings when they say I don’t want to Performer or i don’t wanna be an athlete. Parents stop this damaging cycle of abuse let your children choose their career path, and don’t judge them for it. An astounding performance by June a true mother daughter rivalry. One of my favorite parts of this production is the show stopping Strippers! The comedic timing of these three strippers
Mazeppa (Dawn Bless) Electra (Honey West) Tessie Tura (Melisa Young)
These gals are pure comedy genius and those voices and harmonious blend!!! We’re amazing to see women all shapes and sizes on this stage displaying their great talent!!!
Moving into the choreography of this production Chris Carter sir! Hats off to you! We love productions that understand the importance of time period sensitive choreography as well as choreography that upstages the entire productions. In this era of theatre; where companies are just doing productions to meet POC quotas, and choosing shows and performers based on resume credits, and not actual talent and training. Michael Webber you took a chance, and something great was born! As you each take your final bow this evening, please know that each of you in this production made a permanent imprint on the Chicago theater community, hopefully, other houses throughout the city take the hint and follow suite. Congratulations on a successful run! Happy Trails to all of you!
Gypsy includes: E. Faye Butler, Daryn Whitney Harrell, Aalon Smith, José Antonio García, Honey West, Dawn Bless, Melissa Young, Marco Tzunux Larry Baldacci, Tatiana Bustamante, Joshua Bishop, Elya Faye Bottiger, William “Pierce” Cleaveland, Jared David Michael Grant, Michelle Huey, Jillian-Giselle, Hannah Love Jones, J. Michael Jones, Marvin J. Malone II, Desmond Murphy, Renellè Nicole, Jeff Pierpoint, Ariel Triunfo, and Izzie Rose.
Direction by Michael Weber
Associate Direction and Choreography by Chris Carter
Music Direction by David Fiorello
Assistant Direction by Robin da Silva
- Frederick Alphonso Staff Writer | Crittic Bring It Black Chicago