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Review: Former co-stars shine in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's 'Gypsy'

| Saturday, July 11, 2015, 11:12 p.m.
Archie Carpenter
Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman in a scene from Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's 'Gypsy.'

Almost everything is coming up roses in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of “Gypsy.”

This venerable musical from the golden age of Broadway remains as vibrant today as it was when it debuted in 1959.

Its score — music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — contains classics such as “Let Me Entertain You,” “You'll Never Get Away from Me” and of course, “Everything's Coming Up Roses” as well as lesser-known gems ­— “Small World” and “If Momma Was Married — to name but two.

The story is set in the late 1920s and early '30s in the waning days of vaudeville.

It's driven from start to finish by Rose, a stage mother whose energy and determination makes contemporary helicopter parents look like negligent slackers.

Rose never got a chance to be a star or even a performer. So, like many parents, she's determined to give her girls what she never had ­— even if it's not what daughters June and Louise want.

Pinning her hopes on the prettier, more talented June, she ignores the plainer, more awkward Louise as she drags them and a troupe of growing kids from city to city and ultimately into burlesque.

She's aided by Herbie, whom she entices into service as their agent and manager.

Playwright Arthur Laurents and the original production team that included David Merrick, Leland Heyward and director-choreographer Jerome Robbins created a seamless saga that shows the kids transitioning from youngsters to adulthood.

There's a darkness at the core of Rose's ambition that could be depressing were it not for the woman's strength and inventiveness.

She's endlessly recycling one number into new acts, thwarting landlords, and bullying producers. Her ambition, while amusing to watch, also tends to exhaust and alienate those who love her.

So, a strong actress is needed to play Rose. Ethel Merman, Tyne Daly and Rosalind Russell are among those who have taken on the challenge.

Luckily, Pittsburgh CLO cast Kim Zimmer, still most widely and fondly known as the resilient Reva from the now-defunct soap opera “Guiding Light.”

Zimmer is, once again, teamed with Robert Newman who played Josh opposite her in the CBS soap.

It's not just a gimmick to stoke box-office interest.

Their long history of working together allows Newman and Zimmer to play well off each other.

Newman's Herbie is Rose's laid-back aider and abettor. He's good humored and warm until pushed past endurance.

Zimmer is dynamic and energized throughout this three-hour musical, never letting go of her objective from her opening number “Some People” to the emotional “Rose's Turn” that is the show's true finale.

Susan Cella, Amma Osei and Ruth Pferdehirt inject much humor as a trio of distinctive strippers.

Amanda Rose makes an impressive transition from the much-ignored Louise to the powerful, audience-savvy, glamorous Gypsy Rose Lee.

The show's flaws are mostly in Rose's costumes which are distractingly contemporary and some of the dance numbers disappoint.

But the performances are strong and nuanced, leading to a production that captivates and entertains.

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's “Gypsy” will run at the Benedum Center, Downtown, through July 19 at 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $20 to $67.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or pittsburghCLO.org

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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