Shenton Theatre, Geelong
14 – 22 October
Theatre of the Damned
By Lucas Ioppolo
Ever since its debut in the late 1950s, Gypsy has a been a musical theatre classic and unlike many other musicals of its time, has managed to stay relevant in the PC universe we live in today. With many companies in Melbourne’s amateur circuit preparing to do Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece for their upcoming show seasons, Theatre Of The Damned’s production has really started paving the way for somewhat of a Gypsy renaissance in our community and it’s truly set the bar for all of the productions to come. With such stellar acting performances, beautiful vocal parts, orchestration and more from a cast and crew of talented individuals, many of whom who haven’t had a lead role or prod team position before, Gypsy quickly became a production that anyone in the audience would find difficult to fault.
Being an actor with many professional credits in Melbourne’s East End under his belt, Scott J. Hendry proved to be an excellent choice to direct this production, as he would know the best way to train fellow actors like himself to the best of their abilities and he had a great creative vision to boot. Hendry managed to paint an uncanny picture of onstage and backstage life of the ailing vaudeville and burlesque circuits of the time that Gypsy is set in, even bringing a pantomime cow into the mix as he brought out every ounce of talent and character from all of his performers in a directorial effort that was both lively and legendary. Mae Udarbe may have never musically directed a theatre production before but she certainly fooled the audience into thinking that she was a seasoned professional, as she knew exactly what she was doing when navigating another one of Sondheim’s trademark complex scores. Udarbe and her band often took centre stage with each sweet note they played, hypnotising the audience with the overture and entr’acte alone before guiding the cast to greatness with warm and wonderful vocal chops trained to a T by an MD debut that was established and highly esteemed. I’m sure I speak on behalf of anyone who sees this show when I say that Udarbe has got a bright future ahead of her as MD as the new show season approaches. As for the choreography, Jacob Goulding bedazzled the audience with his extensive musical theatre training to present us with a dance display that covered musical theatre through the ages. If anyone in the cast described themselves as having two left feet, you would never even know it as their wasn’t a single dancer on stage that Goulding couldn’t turn into a master as his choreographic skills took us on a historical journey through jazz, tap, vaudeville, etcetera with routines that were both upbeat and unmatchable.
Onstage, the cast all shined bright like diamonds, whether they were lead or ensemble and whether they were newcomers or those with years of experience, but first I have to put a spotlight on two of the show’s youngest performers, Molly Martin and Elektra Wilde who played the younger versions of June and Louise respectively. In the plot of Gypsy, Baby June may have taken centrestage for most of the first act but both Martin and Wilde proved to the entire audience at such a young age that their potential to become stars in our community is undeniable, acting in some sense as the mind blowing opening act for the adult versions of their characters while still establishing themselves as young leading ladies. Also, worth mentioning are Reyna Hudgell, Paula Kontelj and Leanne Treloar who all put a new spin on the three performers in the burlesque house during the show’s second act number, You Gotta Get A Gimmick. All three ladies put all their talents on display with just the one number and promoted a body positive rendition that can open up the doors for more similar directorial choices in the near future. It was both an educational and enticing experience to watch these three lovely ladies strut their stuff in the second act, acting as Louise’s teachers in the art of burlesque and having good old time while doing it.
Next, Delanee Collins and Braiden Troy may have only been in Gypsy’s first act as June and Tulsa respectively but they quickly ensured us that they weren’t to be forgotten once the second act began. Both performers gave standout performances, reminiscent of young acts of the era like Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire, as their characters slowly began to outgrow their own acts and took a chance to make the leap into more modern avenues by the act one finale. After a mind blowing transition into adulthood through the act of strobelighting, D. Collins and Troy both brought us sunshine and smiles with their introductions and maturity and marvel with their big finishes resulting in two amazing portrayals of their characters. Michael Cunningham returned to the stage for the first time in over a decade earlier this year in CentreStage’s Les Misérables and with his performance as Herbie in Gypsy, he has let the entire circuit know that he is back with a vengeance and he is not going anywhere anytime soon. Cunningham’s portrayal of the talent agent who finds a family in the show’s protagonist and her two daughters and yearns to settle down into a simpler life with them truly touched the audience’s hearts as they watched his own heart slowly break with each rejection and knock back from not only the vaudeville crowds but the love of his life as well. Up until his big climactic swan song of a monologue near the show’s end, Cunningham had the audience spellbound with a realistic and reputable portrayal that will inevitably bring his phenomenal talents back to the forefront of our community.
Now, we come to the two queens of Gypsy, who were undeniably Issy Coomber in the role of the adult Louise and Sophie Collins in the role of her stage mother and show protagonist, Rose. Both ladies gave some of the most convincing and commanding performances of the year, while taking us on this roller coaster ride of emotion as they made their respective character transitions. We as an audience got to watch Coomber bloom from a shy little caterpillar yearning to be recognised by her mother into a beautiful and charismatic self-made butterfly with her poetic and praiseworthy portrayal of one of the greatest burlesque performers who ever lived. Meanwhile, S. Collins started the show as your typical doting stage mother who had a dream of making her daughters superstars in the theatre world and over the show’s run time we got to see her slowly but surely become more desperate to make it happen as her crippling obsession eventually drives her loved ones away and herself into madness. The divine performer had us on the edge of our seats in the theatre from start to finish as she transformed into Rose right before our eyes in one of the most dedicated performances of the year that I can only describe as fabulous and faultless.
Theatre Of The Damned has once again demonstrated that they don’t need to be the biggest company in Geelong to give us a thrilling show and their production of Gypsy was truly no exception. Many people involved got the chance to show the world what they’re made of in a production of firsts and they achieved it magnificently, cementing their status in this beloved theatrical circuit of ours with a prod team and three main actors that could easily garner award nominations for their efforts. Special shouout to David Postill and his dog Willow for their performances in the featured ensemble, you were both absolutely amazing and to the show’s producers and company presidents Tony and Elise Dahl for making dreams in our community a reality. Congratulations to the cast and crew associated with Gypsy on such a fantastic adaptation and production year and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for your next production.
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About the Author
Lucas Ioppolo is a community theatre performer with a passion to bring a positive energy and encouragement to those in theatre who have gone unnoticed or underrepresented. He hopes his reviews can help bring the spotlight back to a community that has helped him throughout the years.
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