St. Petersburg Times: Weekend

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Another classic production

Before the show even opens, the Show Palace Dinner Theater has a hit with Gypsy.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 20, 2003

[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Matthew McGee, Lauren Alagna and Shannon Lee Jones are Uncle Jocko, Baby Louise and Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.

Broadway's golden age produced a string of musical classics: Guys and Dolls, The King and I, Damn Yankees, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The Music Man and Gypsy, to name a few.

They've become staples of the theater -- revived on Broadway, sent on countless tours and regularly produced in regional and community theaters -- for good reasons: great stories and wonderful music.

One of the favorites, Gypsy, opens Friday for a six-week run at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson. A week before opening, several of the shows had sold out, and Show Palace owners Nick and Sal Sessa were scrambling to schedule additional performances.

The Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical is based on the life of burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, but the focus is on Gypsy's pushy mother, Mama Rose, a role created for and most associated with Broadway diva Ethel Merman.

The dinner theater has tapped Broadway, touring company and television performer Shannon Lee Jones (La Cage aux Folles, Funny Girl, Sugar, All My Children, Magnum P.I.) to play Mama Rose.

"She's not doing the role like Merman," show director Bruce Blaine said. "In fact, if she thinks she's sounding like Merman, she stops and thinks of another way to do that part. She wants this to be her role, not an imitation."

In the story, Mama Rose begs her father for $50 so she can push the vaudeville careers of her two young daughters, particularly the talented and beautiful June.

Mama recruits a ragtag group of hoofers to back up Baby June and bullies theater owners to put them in their shows. The scheme backfires when grown-up Dainty June runs off with a dancer, leaving Mama to pin her hopes on her older daughter, untalented Louise.

It's a tale of mother-daughter conflict, and it ends on a bittersweet note after Gypsy achieves fame onstage, in the movies and as an author.

The brassy musical has one of Broadway's favorite trios, the gum-snapping, scantily clad strippers who introduce Louise (Kristie Kerwin) to their trade: tassel-twirling Tessie Tura (Katie Kerwin), horn-tooting "Ya gotta bump it with a trumpet" Mazeppa (Susan Haldeman) and lit-up Electra (Julie Czarnecki).

There are also snappy dance numbers by the kids who back up Baby June.

The show's tunes include Everything's Coming Up Roses, Small World, Together, Some People and Mama Rose's signature song, Rose's Turn.

* * *

PREVIEW: Gypsy run Friday through March 30 at Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Shows at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and March 6; 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Doors open two hours before each show for buffet and cash bar. Dinner and show, $37.50; show only, $26.45. Ages 12 and younger, $19.95 and $14.95. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll free elsewhere 1-888-655-7469.

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