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Theater review: 'Gypsy' by West Coast Ensemble

May 19, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Gypsy " 'Gypsy.' Stripped." So read the ads for West Coast Ensemble's less-dressed production of the landmark musical inspired by the life of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee. Intelligently pared to a sub-100-seat company's limitations, this big musical reveals subtleties that get overwhelmed in grander presentations.

Director Richard Israel doesn't stop there. He and his team bravely leave some seams showing as they depict the shabbiness to which show-business delusionist Momma Rose subjects her daughters: the items she's scavenged or stolen to use for sets and costumes, the barrel's-bottom acts with which the girls share the stage.

Yet however much Momma might charm, coax or outright stampede her children, she also lets them know they're loved -- a warmth that is particularly evident in Jan Sheldrick's portrayal.

She is a dynamo in the scripted scenes by Arthur Laurents (whose passing on May 5 makes the timing of this presentation all the more poignant), less so in the songs by lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Jule Styne.

The spotlight is thus free to pick up other details, such as Stephanie Wall's heart-tugging depiction of Louise (soon to be Gypsy) on the cusp of womanhood. She may be all but invisible to the boy of her dreams, but we notice how radiant she is as she hovers close by, shy and unassertive, vibrating with yearning.       

Too bad that after so much terrific work, this production can't muster its big finish: Momma's breakdown in song. As of opening night, Sheldrick was delivering only a few of the colors in that kaleidoscope of vulnerability and defiance.

"Gypsy" is trim and attractive here, but with enough flaws to be mortal.


Arthur Laurents dies; playwright and Broadway director

An Appreciation: Arthur Laurents, prickly Broadway pioneer

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Gypsy," Theatre of Arts Arena Stage, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 3. $34. (323) 655-0108 or Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Photo: Jan Sheldrick, left, as Momma Rose and Stephanie Wall as Louise in West Coast Ensemble's production of "Gypsy." Credit: Carla Barnett / West Coast Ensemble.