Barrett leads, others follow in Lyric’s ‘Gypsy’

Kirsten Salpini, Shannon Lee Jones, Kathy St George, and Jordan Clark in “Gypsy.” Photo by Mark S. Howard

BOSTON – The iconic role of Mama Rose in the musical “Gypsy” requires an actress who is not only a fine singer but who can win the audience over with the sheer force of her personality.

Leigh Barrett fills the bill, and putting her at the top of the ticket made the Lyric Stage Company’s production of “Gypsy” almost guaranteed to succeed..

Barrett’s voice has long been one of the the more remarkable instruments in the Greater Boston theatrical community, but what sets her apart is her ability to find the small nuances in the music of such artists as Jacques Brel and Stephen Sondheim, lighting up the stage singing numbers such as Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.”

Leigh Barrett and Kirsten Salpini in a scene from Lyric Stage’s “Gypsy.” Photo by Mark S. Howard

Her ability to take on iconic characters in the musical theater canon and make them her own is proven once again in this story of ultimate stage mother, determined to make her daughter stars even as the vaudeville circuit they are playing is withering and dying.

The character of Rose is full of contradictions. She is indomitable, arrogant, brash, self-serving, driven, and selfish in pursuing what she wants at all costs. We abhor what amounts to her abuse of her daughters, but at the same time admire her dogged determination and ability to bounce back from whatever life deals her, including having had her mother walk out o n her, three failed marriages and, as “Gypsy” opens, living hand to mouth in her father’s Seattle apartment.

Steven Barkimer’s Herbie – the former agent who gets back into the business to try and keep Mama Rose and her brood afloat – is a bit more understated than others who have played the role, but his easy-going manner and undying love for Rose make it all the more heartbreaking when he realizes his dreams of getting off the road and living at home – one home – with Rose will never be realized.

Kara Troilo is “Baby June,” the daughter forced into a Peter Pan-type existence and not being allowed to grow up as Rose kept her daughters “children” as long as humanly – or inhumanly – possible.

As Louise, the forgotten daughter who will one day become the star ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, Kirsten Salpni once again proves she a fine singer, dancer and actress who showed she could do all that and play the piano too in Lyric’s “Murder for Two.” She’s also an accomplished songwriter.

Troilo and Salpini’s rendition of “If Momma was Married” is a delight.

Youth is served by some strong work by Margot Anderson Song as the young Baby June and Cate Galante as Young Louise. 

As good as the leads are, they run the risk – as many have before them – of having the show stolen from underneath them by Kathy St. George, adding yet another in a passel of unforgettable comic turns as the trumpet-playing stripper Mazeppa, decked out in a Roman gladiator outfit.

She is aided and batted by her colleagues Shannon Lee Jones as Tessie Tura and Jordan Clark as Electra, and the three make the number “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” pure theatrical joy.

Remo Airaldi has a fine comic turn as the owner of the burlesque house where Louise first found her footing as Gypsy Rose Lee, and Brady Miller and David Alea provide solid support as Tulsa and Yonkers, two members of Mama Rose’s downtrodden traveling troupe.

Methinks one of the factors that might have helped steer Lyric Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos towards “Gypsy” is that the score features music by Jule Styne and lyrics by a young Sondheim, following up his triumph in “West Side Story,” and Veloudos is a noted Sondheimophile,

Styne and Sondheim were on their game throughout this musical with numbers such as “Some People” and “Small World.” Styne and Sondheim provided not one but two anthems for Rose, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” at the end of Act 1 and Barrett’s bravura rendering of “Rose’s Turn” as the show’s searing finale.

Rachel Bertone has proven herself, with a string of credits at a young age, one of the leading double-threats – director and choreographer – and this “Gypsy” steps lively and moves along seamlessly, belying its 2 hour, 45 minute length. Music Director Dan Rodriguez and his seven-piece orchestra are in excellent balance with the vocals in the intimate Lyric Stage space.

“Gypsy” goes nowhere without Barrett, who proves once again she is up the challenge, and she takes the rest of the cast along with her for the ride.

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “Gypsy.” Book by Arthuir Laurents. Music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone. Music direction by Dan Rodriguez. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Oct. 8