In sports, the term “ringer” generally refers to the practice of using a clearly superior competitor to gain an unfair advantage. In theatrical terms, it describes the importation of outside talent in the hope of drawing a larger-than-normal audience. Both scenarios hope that the player/performer hits it out of the park.
Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse cast a ringer—in the person of Kathy Fitzgerald—in Gypsy, running through Oct. 20. A successful character actress with featured roles in several Broadway hits (Wicked, The Producers), Ms. Fitzgerald takes on the challenging lead role of Momma Rose in what many consider the greatest American musical.
Momma Rose stops at nothing to make her daughter “Baby” June (Gigi Bruce-Low) a star, keeping her perpetually young as they cross the country with a third-rate vaudeville act. When the grown up “Dainty” June (Melody Payne) tires of the child act and elopes with one of the young men from the troupe, Momma Rose turns her sight to frequently dismissed second daughter Louise (Cecilia Brenner, then Carmen Mitchell). With vaudeville dying, they appear at a low-rent theatre that turns out to be a burlesque house. With the main “attraction” unable to perform, Momma Rose sees the chance to make Louise a star, if only for a night. The shy and retiring Louise soon becomes Gypsy Rose Lee.
The classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim score complements the book by Arthur Laurents with such classics as “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
Director Jared Sakren got a “two-fer” with the casting of Ms. Fitzgerald, who is joined onstage by her husband Roger Michelson in the role of Herbie, the harried agent hopelessly in love with Rose. Michelson’s performance is quite good and often the emotional heart of the show. Mitchell also shines as the coming-into-her-own Louise.
Spotty production values keep the show visually flat until late in the second act, when bright costuming by Pamela Johnson and lighting by April George elevate the show. The same can be said for Ms. Fitzgerald’s performance.
To return to sports parlance, she spent most of the show hitting singles and doubles and didn’t really get a great at-bat until the show’s conclusion with “Rose’s Turn.”
It was a solid triple.
Rating (out of 5):★★★½
‘Gypsy’ runs through Oct. 20 at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday–Sunday, 2pm. $35–$48. 707.523.4185. 6thstreetplayhouse.com