Drury Lane’s by-the-numbers ‘Gypsy’ is missing a few layers

There is one moment in William Osetek’s otherwise by-the-numbers production of Gypsy that gave me those rare theatrical chills. It’s during a crucial act two turning point when, moments before she’s to step onstage for her first strip, Louise (the ideally cast Andrea Prestinario) catches herself in the mirror. The lifelong tom boy and wallflower realizes she’s a “pretty girl, mama.” Thanks to the late Arthur Laurents’s writing, this is a brilliant scene by itself, yet tricky to pull off. Not only does he pull it off, Osetek has taken the moment a step further by having the wall with the mirror roll away to reveal Louise’s childhood counterpart staring at her from a ghostly spotlight.

This subtle and unexpected moment that packs a wallop. There stands Louise, bidding farewell to her past. It’s a glimmer of the daring new production of Gypsy that might have been. But, then, the moment is cut short and we’re jerked back into a highly professional, yet mostly unexceptional, Gypsy.

Before I go any further, I must say that Gypsy is one of my all-time favorite musicals. I’ve seen several outstanding productions over the years, and own nearly every recording of the score — even the foreign language ones (the Mexico City cast recording is a marvel of misconception). So, any production of this classic American musical has a lot to live up to.

For most, Drury Lane’s Gypsy will more than suffice. It hits all the required marks and elicits a standing ovation. As for the powerhouse role of Rose, the square-jawed Klea Blackhurst, a New York-based singer/actress, does a decent job as the domineering stage mother who unwittingly pushes her daughters away in her monomaniacal quest to make them stars. Her Rose is driven without being crazy — she’s a very working class Rose who fully embodies the line “she’s a pioneer woman without a frontier.” Blackhurst’s act one and act two showstoppers are well sung, if a bit too nasal for my tastes. Overall, it’s a fine, regional theatre performance. (Adorable Chowsie, by the way.)

And what of that rollicking Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim score? The pit band of around 10 players sounds thin, even for Drury Lane standards, but following a disappointing (and slightly truncated) overture, they get the job done and actually sound authentic to the third-rate vaudeville scenes that make up the bulk of the show.

The biggest achievement, however, is Martin Andrew’s set design, featuring a giant spinning proscenium that efficiently transitions between the offstage and onstage worlds in this showbiz inspired musical. I’ve seen some Gypsys get mired down in the numerous scene changes — not this production. The evening clips along at a nice pace, but, as a result, skims over the more complex emotional moments that separate a good Gypsy from a brilliant Gypsy.

“Gypsy” plays through March 25 at Drury Lane Oakbrook. More info here >

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