That’s show biz, folks.
By Kay Kipling
Some people want to be in show business in the worst way. And in two plays currently running locally, that’s just how they get there.
The first is the classic Broadway musical Gypsy, the more or less true story of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee’s years spent in vaudeville and burlesque at the behest of stagestruck mother Rose (MaryBeth Antoinette), who’ll stop at nothing to get her babies in the limelight. While it’s Gypsy’s story, it’s Rose’s show, and Rose is the kind of part actresses will kill to get their hands on.
Venice Little Theatre’s production of Gypsy is no exception to the rule that Rose dominates the show. Whether pushing her young daughters into a kid’s show in Seattle or taking them around the country performing the same stale act for a decade, she’s determined to get something for all her relentless hard work. Antoinette’s performance conveys the drive and energy of Rose while making her sympathetic as well. We don’t see Rose as a monster willing to sacrifice her kids on the altar of show biz, but as a woman whose desperate need to be noticed will never quite be fulfilled. We can even see why Herbie (Steve Credeur), a candy- salesman-cum-agent, is willing to follow her along like a puppy when all he really wants is a wife and a home.
VLT’s Gypsy doesn’t succeed on every level; there are too many variations in casting, age and talentwise. But the orchestra is strong enough to propel those great Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim tunes (including Let Me Entertain You, Everything’s Coming Up Roses and You Gotta Get a Gimmick); director Joe Simmons moves the proceedings along at a satisfyingly swift clip; and Credeur, Garie Jean Williams as Gypsy and a trio of strippers (Tamara Solum, Colleen Sudduth and Michele Strauss) lend Antoinette enough support to see the show through. Still, Antoinette’s turn as Rose is the reason to see the show, which has been extended through Dec. 1; call 488-1115 or go to www.venicestage.com.
The other show about performers who would just die to get onstage (and do) is Plaid Tidings, Stuart Ross’s holiday follow-up to his perennial hit, Forever Plaid. Most of you probably remember Sparky, Jinx, Frankie and Smudge, the hopelessly clean-cut, smooth-harmonizing ’50s foursome whose big chance for stardom came to an end in a car crash that sent them all straight to heaven. Fortunately, they were allowed back on earth for that original show, and now the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre (www.thegoldenapple.com) brings them back once more for a show that’s supposed to make you feel good for the holidays.
Plaid Tidings eventually does that, but it doesn’t happen in the first act. While the essential charm of the Plaids remains intact, Act I takes quite a while to get going and doesn’t have much spirit. It’s only in the second half, when the boys finally get to put on the Christmas special they’ve been dreaming about, that we really get into the holiday feeling.
That’s not the fault of the players, who are willing enough and talented enough to entertain; it’s just the setup of the show and the relatively weak songs and schtick of that first half. In Act II we settle in with some comedy bits that have the ring of familiarity but still amuse: a solo spot about poor Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer featuring Larry Buzzeo (who also scores with the rap-flavored Twuz Tha Nite B4 Xmas); a Let It Snow sequence that has Smudge (David Philip Brown) struggling to do his choreography without his glasses; and, of course, the Plaids’ famous condensed Ed Sullivan Show routine, this time done with a holiday flair.
And before the end of the show there really is a nostalgic feeling for old-fashioned holidays in the air, particularly when the boys do backup for Perry Como to an old clip of one of Como’s many Christmas specials. So as the season to be jolly approaches, you might want to take in Plaid Tidings, which runs through Dec. 31. Call 366-5454.