Gypsy tells the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous burlesque dancer whose rise to stardom happened at the beginning of the end of vaudeville.
Sarah Smith, who embodies this infamous performer, spoke about the challenges of character development of a little girl named Louise who grew up to become one of the highest paid burlesque performers of her time.
"Louise is both a wonderful and a challenging role to play because of her journey," Smith said. "She ages about 10 years throughout the course of the whole show, and her life is constantly changing. When we first meet her she is a boyish wall flower who helps everyone and rarely, if ever, asks for something for herself. We see her grow up as she is forced to take on responsibilities a child shouldn't have. Despite this, she is the glue that holds the whole clan together."
Smith, whose bucket list of coveted roles includes Viola from Twelfth Night and Shelley in Bat Boy, was also cast as one of the Bad Idea Bears in Avenue Q.
"Developing my characters in Gypsy and Avenue Q couldn't be more different," Smith said. "Bad Idea Girl Bear is sweet and sugary and seemingly innocent, when really she has the worst of intentions. Also, working with a puppet is a new and exciting experience and presents all sorts of new challenges. I'm developing shoulder and arm muscles at the same time I'm developing the character. Louise is actually based on a real person. The play's timeline presents the added challenge of having to age Louise about 10 years throughout."
Ron Loyd, who was cast as Herbie in Gypsy, spoke about playing such a lovable character against the backdrop of women who range from sublime to extremely overbearing.
"Herbie is the guy you would like to have a beer with," Loyd said. "He would keep you laughing with great stories from his life in the theater and then pick up the check at the end. He will do anything for those he loves and always thinks of himself last. When we meet Herbie in the play, his life is good. After realizing that an agent's life is not for him (he gets ulcers from the stress and gives away his commissions to pad his client's livelihood), he has turned to a sweet life. Literally. He sells candy to vaudeville houses all over the west. It is the best of both worlds for him. He gets to be in the theatre as well as make kids happy. What could better or more telling of the kind of guy Herbie is? He loves kids.
Even Madam Rose recognizes that a man who loves kids is an important sign."
What is the biggest challenge of rehearsing three shows at once for the Summer Stage experience?
"Words. Words. Words," Loyd said. "Rehearsing three shows at once is a little like those horror movies whose main characters have split personalities. One personality is always trying to bust through at the most inappropriate times."
In the middle of the chaos of performing in three shows, Loyd keeps it all in perspective by elaborating on his favorite part about each show.
"In Gypsy, I am having a selfishly good time working with my best friend for over 20 years, Melissa Parks. We are always excited to work together and I am thankful to share the stage with her this season. In Forum, I play Pseudolus. It is one of those parts where I get lots of freedom to do whatever I can think of to get a laugh. It is a luxury and I think it is going to be a blast. I have been an admirer of Avenue Q since its premiere. In fact, I sang in church choir in [New York] with one of the writers while he was still works hopping the piece. It is clever, witty, and well-written, and I am having a great time singing a role that I didn't think I would ever get to do. Brian is a lovable goof. It's type casting, what can I say."
LOOK Light Opera kicks off the Tulsa Performing Arts Center SummerStage season with Gypsy, Avenue Q and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum June 15-July 8. Tickets are available by calling 918-596-7109. Avenue Q is for mature audiences.
Just can't get enough summer theater? Looking for another road trip? Northeastern State University offers its Summer Series, a Branson-style professional production featuring many local artists who come back year after year to participate.
Dr. Robyn Magee Pursley, an alumnus of the NSU Theatre Department, serves as Artistic Director. This year, the River City Players and Downtown Country shows have merged at the same venue.
"This is the 30th season that NSU has produced a summer music series," Pursley said. "It has grown over the years to include a variety of music genres. I stage managed the shows my last two years in school here and while in grad school. I became the costumer and one of the show directors in 2004 and then became the artistic director and sole show director for the River City Players in 2005. This year we have combined the River City Players and Downtown Country into the same venue."
Part of the charm of the Summer Series is the return of many individuals from years past and the utilization of local talent, such as local college students.
"My vocal director is an NSU alum as well as an alum of the River City Players," Pursley said. "My choreographer is also an alum of RCP. We have many performers return in consecutive seasons because they have such a great experience. We showcase the talent of local individuals, primarily students. Some attend NSU, others are Tahlequah area natives who attend school somewhere else but come home for the summer shows. The woman who was the previous director of RCP for many years was actually the creator of the RCP show."
The 30th Annual Summer Series is presented June 14-August 4 in Tahlequah, Ok. For tickets and venue information, please call 918-458-2075.
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