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For actor playing Gypsy, all's coming up roses

The 1959 musical about the famed stripper and her stage mother opens at Richey Suncoast Theatre Thursday for a three-weekend run and features veteran performers in key roles.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

The Mitchell High School honor student has dyed her naturally blond hair a dark auburn.

It's part of getting into character to play the title role in Gypsy, the 1959 musical based on the relationship that vaudeville stripper Gypsy Rose Lee had with her overbearing mother, Mama Rose. The show opens Thursday at Richey Suncoast Theatre for a three-weekend run.

"This is the most fun I have ever had," Ms. Bram said shortly before a recent rehearsal. "I worked with (choreographer) Jane (Geddings) and (director) Dick (Poole) before in Mack and Mabel and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and it's great to work with them again."

Veteran performer Val Sanford is playing the pivotal role of Mama Rose, the frustrated actor who tries to realize her dreams of fame through her children.

"She's the quintessential stage mother," Ms. Sanford said. "I think she lives her life vicariously. She wants (her children) to be the star that she never was. Show business is her life."

Ms. Sanford's character gets the show's biggest song, Rose's Turn, when Mama Rose vents her anger and disappointment at how her life has turned out.

"I have been waiting for someone to do Gypsy," Ms. Sanford said. "I have always aspired to do that role."

Ms. Sanford has been on stage for more than 30 years, starting in Pennsylvania when she was a teenager. Since moving to Oldsmar, she has performed in several shows at Eight O'Clock Theatre in Largo, including leads in the musicals State Fair and Nunsense and the plays Harvey and The Women. This is her first appearance at Richey Suncoast.

"She's just great," said director Poole. "She has a natural ability, and there's a different look about her."

Poole is also making the show's costumes.

The 34-member cast also has Will Nichols as Herbie, Mama Rose's persistent suitor.

"Herbie loves show business, but he wants to settle down and have a family, even if it is a pre-made family," Nichols said.

Nichols played the elderly Erronius in Funny/Forum, Harry the Phone Man in Barefoot in the Park and Gonzorgo in Babes in Toyland. He was instrumental in bringing the dramatic enactment of Pink Floyd's The Wall to Richey Suncoast and played one of the vicious military wall-builders in that production.

"This is Will's first big part," Poole said. "He did such a good job for me in Forum, and he takes direction so well."

The young Gypsy, whose birth name was Louise, will be played by Casey Maxwell. Sydney Blackburn plays Louise's little sister, Baby June, who went on to become a Broadway and Hollywood star as June Havoc. The grown-up Dainty June is played by Jesslyn Kostopoulos.

Having a principal role in Gypsy has special meaning for Ms. Bram.

"It will be my last show at Richey Suncoast Theatre," she said. "I'm going to the University of Central Florida in the fall, and there aren't any other shows this year that might have a role for me."

The remaining two productions are the mystery-drama Ladies in Retirement (Feb. 27-March 16), which has a cast of mature women, and the musical Annie (May 15-June 1), which doesn't have a role for a teenage girl.

At a glance

WHAT: Gypsy, a musical

WHERE: Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey

WHEN: Thursday and weekends Jan. 17-Feb. 2. Shows at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $13, reserved seating. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.

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