2014-06-20 / Columnists

Memo From The RTC

Gypsy Update, And They Call Me Mr. Goldstone
By Norm Scott

I’m a process person – fascinated by the nuts and bolts that go into just about anything. I have a “how is it made” mentality. So getting beyond the surface of the dynamic productions at the RTC is quite a treat.

I attended a rehearsal last week of the Rockaway Theatre Company’s production of “Gypsy” opening July 18 and running for three weekends (plus a Thursday).

At that rehearsal they were blocking a long scene and I don’t come in until the end, so I saw how the sausage is made.

Not being much of a theater person, but having seen “Gypsy” revivals on Broadway, I am still surprised when a song pops up at rehearsal that I’m familiar with. The most famous is "Everything's Coming up Roses" – with the memorable and overwhelming Ethel Merman voice belting it out.

So I’m sitting at rehearsal when up pops this famous song to close Act 1. And Louisa Boyaggi, playing the lead – Rose - the Ethel Merman role - just lets it all go and we’re all sitting there in awe, just wowed. And everyone suddenly breaks into spontaneous applause when she is done. And this is a freak’n rehearsal in front of about 20 people – who have been involved in the play. Jeez, Louise(a), I got goose bumps. Still do when I think about it.

I’m learning lots of new theater words, like, “blocking.” I have a tiny part but had to be there to be “blocked” – how I enter the scene, where I stand in relation to others, etc. This process takes a lot of time and thought and working out kinks. When we see a play as a finished product we don’t appreciate the “choreography” that goes into making sure people don’t end up crashing into each other as they enter or exit a scene or as they careen around the stage. My turn came. Director Susan Corning gave me instructions. I play Mr. Goldstone, a booking agent for a chain of theaters. My job is to be led in, put into a chair and sit and look stone-faced while people sing, dance and hand me stuff. I don’t have to say a thing. My wife wants me to play Mr. Goldstone at home.

Wikipedia says: “Gypsy has been referred to as the greatest American musical by numerous critics and writers, among them Ben Brantley ("what may be the greatest of all American musicals...") and Frank Rich. Rich wrote that "Gypsy is nothing if not Broadway's own brassy, unlikely answer to 'King Lear.'" Theater critic Clive Barnes wrote that " 'Gypsy' is one of the best of musicals..." and described the character of Rose as "one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical ... It is frequently considered one of the crowning achievements of the mid-20th century's conventional musical theatre art form, often called the "book musical.”

The 1959 play, starring Ethel Merman as Rose, the penultimate stage mom (with revivals starring amongst others, Angela Landsbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone with Rosalind Russell in the film version) is based on the memoirs of her daughter, Gypsy Rose Lee, who turned striptease into an art form (played in the RTC production by one if our faves, Kim Simek – I can’t wait to attend the striptease rehearsals). Just look at that list above of actresses playing Rose, one of the giant female leads in Broadway history. There were even rumors that Streisand was going to star in another film version, but that never came about. And here in Rockaway we have our own Louisa Boyaggi who can stand toe to toe with many of them. As for the Gypsy preview at Rockaway! the Fort Tilden Art Fair, June 29, The Wave reported there will be previews of the musical plus more RTC activities as part of this gala event, maybe some even outdoors. I’ll leave it to our fearless leader, Susan Jasper, to elaborate in an email she sent: “The National Park Service has decided to make Fort Tilden more accessible to the public. They, along with the Rockaway Artists Alliance have secured a grant from the Museum of Modern Art for a big fair and Arts show on the grounds of Fort Tilden where our theater is located and we have been invited to participate. There will be food vendors, entertainment, etc. for the public to enjoy. We will be doing mini- shows in our theater that day. We would like to present the “Brotherhood of Man” number from “How to Succeed…”. I need to know who can join us for this very important gig. If you have plans – BREAK THEM. You are all essential! If you are … in a foreign country or foreign state, COME HOME IMMEDIATELY.” Susan wouldn’t hesitate to call an astronaut down from space. And he would come. Or wouldn’t dare not to.

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