Mother doesn’t know best

Grosse Pointe Theatre explores show business, family dysfunction in ‘Gypsy’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 11, 2013

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Long before Dina Lohan and the mothers of the would-be starlets on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” there was the mother of all stage mothers, Mama Rose — a.k.a. Rose Hovick.

Regardless of the cost, Mama Rose was determined to make stars out of her daughters — the woman who would become the famous burlesque striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, and her sister, Baby June, who would become the actress June Havoc. Gypsy Rose Lee, who died in 1970, started dancing and stripping at only 15, and would later pen her memoirs. Her dramatic story became the subject of the 1959 Tony-nominated Broadway musical “Gypsy,” which featured music by Jules Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Grosse Pointe Theatre hasn’t staged too many productions more than once, but for the launch of the 66th season, GPT is bringing back “Gypsy,” more than 40 years after it debuted in the Pointes. The show opens with a 2 p.m. matinee Sept. 15 and runs through Sept. 28 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial. “Gypsy” spawned legendary numbers like “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Small World.”

“This is one of the best shows in musical theater, and it arguably has the best overture I’ve ever heard,” said producer Gwenn Samuel, of St. Clair Shores, who was a part of GPT the last time “Gypsy” was staged by the group in 1971. “It’s a wonderful show.”

Director Jeanne Chrisman, of Harper Woods, was a young actress in that original GPT production, playing the front end of a cow in the chorus.

“I decided I wanted to direct it when I was in it,” she said.

Chrisman said the first GPT production had a larger cast, more extravagant sets and even live animals, including a monkey and a lamb. Her vision was for a more stripped-down “Gypsy.”

“We tried to keep the scenery to a minimum and concentrate on the characters and their relation to one another,” she said.

But that’s not to say there won’t be some “wow” moments, visually. For example, Chrisman said the scenic designer has come up with a fully lighted, wraparound walkway.

Allison McClelland, of Grosse Pointe Park, who grew up watching Natalie Wood’s portrayal of the Gypsy Rose Lee character on film, is realizing a lifelong dream by playing the title character — a role McClelland’s late mother believed her talented young daughter could bring to life.

“This has always been close to my heart,” McClelland said of “Gypsy.”

McClelland has forged a genuine bond with the woman playing her mother in the show, Marie Boyle Reinman, of Grosse Pointe Farms. Reinman — whose son, Connor, is also in the show — said she’s “kind of the antithesis of Rose.”

“My kids have both come to (performing) on their own,” said Reinman, whose husband, Tim, has also been in a number of GPT shows.

Mama Rose has been played by a wide range of actresses, from Ethel Merman to Angela Lansbury to Tyne Daly. Reinman was apprehensive about tackling the role of Mama Rose at first — not because of the character’s star-studded history on stage and screen, but because “she is so hateful,” Reinman said. However, the actress found she could bring some humanity to the role — especially through Mama Rose’s relationship with love-interest Herbie, played by Brian Groth, of St. Clair Shores.

Groth — whose 9-year-old daughter, Lilly, is also in the show — found himself relating to the role of Herbie, a voice of reason in all of the chaos. As a father of two daughters, he said he understood Herbie’s efforts to protect Mama Rose’s two girls.

“I really felt like there were a lot of things Herbie said that I would have said,” Groth explained.

There’s also plenty of humor in the iconic show, which introduces audiences to the world of 1920s and 1930s vaudeville and burlesque productions. McClelland said Sondheim is “a psychological musical genius” who has created “intelligently, wittily done” numbers.

Music and vocal director Stan Harr, of Grosse Pointe Shores, has a similar take.

“He’s so meticulous with his words,” Harr said of Sondheim. “There’s not a wasted word, a wasted beat.”

Reinman said she believes Mama Rose was likely bi-polar, and she has been trying to portray her breakdown with sensitivity.

“I’m very much a storyteller when I sing,” she said. “I’m working through (the character) through the music.”

Even so, it’s been a challenge.

“It’s very vocally taxing and emotionally taxing,” Reinman said of the role.

Other cast members include Grosse Pointe Farms residents Eddie and Jessica Tujaka; Grosse Pointe Park residents Michelle Hooks-Stackpoole, Claire Tuuri and Elaina, Perry and Gino Calisi; Grosse Pointe City residents Geoff Nathan, Anne Maters, Anna Christinidis, Alex Gonzalez and Robby Mullinger; Grosse Pointe Woods residents Peter Gritsas, Terri Turpin-Amato, Jerry and Quinn Nehr, Christina Emily Surzyn, Molly Lupo, Sara Shook, Sophie Leszczynski, Julianna Brenner and Nick Doyle; Clinton Township residents Elaine Dozois Smith and Tom Pagano; Anna Chrisman, of Harper Woods; Caroline Bergeron, of St. Clair Shores; Adrian Balinski, of Warren; Jackie Pfaff, of Chesterfield Township; and Catie and Cathleine Campbell-Cormier, of Columbus, Ohio.

Chrisman said she was fortunate to get such a strong cast for a show that requires solid vocals, as well as footwork. Because of that, this version of “Gypsy” will even feature tap dancing.

“I think people will walk out saying, ‘Wow, that’s not like a community theater show,’” Reinman said.

Besides the opening performance, “Gypsy” will be staged Sept. 19-22 and 26-28 at the War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore. Shows are performed at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $24. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-4004 or log on to