Dark Horse Company Theatre knows the first, most important rule in producing a great musical.
It's simple, really: Start with a great product, then do your best to make certain your director, cast and crew rise to the occasion.
When your intention is the classic stage-mother musical of "Gypsy," however, the flip-side of that rule is also riddled with pitfalls, if not outright land mines. That's because this is one of a handful of musicals to which some of our time's most powerful theater critics unlock their close-guarded cabinets of hyperbole.
The late New York Times and Post reviewer Clive Barnes ranked Mama Rose as one of the supreme creations of character in the genre. Not to be outdone, New York Times theater critic alum Frank Rich places it alongside Shakespeare's "King Lear."
Then there's its legacy of stage and film productions. Rosalind Russell was better at shouting the role of Mama Rose than singing in the 1962 film version, but Natalie Wood was unforgettable as Louise, her child-actor and daughter turned burlesque stripper. Fans found a far better Mama Rose with Bette Midler in the 1993 television version, even if Cynthia Gibb's Louise couldn't quite compete with Wood's allure.
So if you're going to attempt this 1959 Broadway colossus with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, your talent better be in the luxury class. That is, if you want to honor the "Gypsy" tradition, not to mention audience expectations.
Dark Horse Company Theatre's production succeeds on many counts, most crucially in its central character. Teresa Sanderson grabs the role of Mama Rose right from the opening and, in the spirit of her character's unyielding hold on daughters Louise and June, never lets go.
To call hers a powerhouse performance doesn't quite do it justice. It's powerful all right, but also gives the character crucial breathing room in scenes and musical numbers that reveal the desperation of her quest to deliver her daughters to fame's door at almost any cost.
Sanderson achieves Mama Rose's balancing act between hope, tenacity and denial in the face of oncoming failure in "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" that, while spellbinding, sometimes highlight the production's shortcomings.
And there are a few. Lauren Noll turns in a fine Louise, but rushes some crucial syllables during "Little Lamb" that mar the song's poignancy. The stage band also seems rushed at times, particularly in Act I, where the music's robust swing often gets lost in pace and rhythm better suited to a marching band.
Act II banishes such minor disappointments. Karli Lowry, Rebecca Joy Raboy and Lisa Grow bring the house down as the rowdy, raunchy Mazeppa, Tessi Tura and Electra in "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," while Noll displays a winning on-stage transformation in her showcase "Gypsy Strip Routine" number.
And director Tracy Callahan, with musical director JD Dumas and set designer Daniel T. Simons, have worked wonders with Egyptian Theatre's miniscule stage. In painting this rich musical vision on such a small canvas, they've given Utah musical fans perhaps the best locally-grown production of 2011.
Facebook.com/sltribremix Dark Horse Company's 'Gypsy'
P One of the biggest and best local musical productions to fill a small stage, with an all-stops-out performance by Teresa Sanderson as Mama Rose.
When Â» Reviewed July 17; continues through July 31, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
Where Â» Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City
Info Â» $15-$25. Call 435-649-9371 or visit parkcityshows.com or egyptiantheatrecompany.org for more information.
Running time • Two hours and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission