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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Andrea Cartagena (Rose), May 15, 16 and 17, McCoole's Arts and Events Center, 4 S. Main St., Quakertown CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Andrea Cartagena (Rose), May 15, 16 and 17, McCoole's Arts and Events Center, 4 S. Main St., Quakertown

Theater Review: 'Gypsy' a Rose by any other name

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Assembling a new theater company is no easy task. And starting with "Gypsy" takes ambition and a lot of sass.

Star of the Day Event Productions is the new kid on a crowded block of local theater companies in the Lehigh Valley region. The troupe has recently taken residence in McCoole's Arts and Events Center, 4 S. Main St., Quakertown.

"Gypsy," which continues May 15, 16 and 17 at McCoole's, is the beloved musical that tells the bittersweet tale of the ultimate stage mother, Rose (Andrea Cartagena) and her quest to make daughter Baby June (Paige Horvath), known as Dainty June (Anna Lovallo) when older, a star on the vaudeville circuit.

Meanwhile June's sibling, Baby Louise (Caitlin Noone), known as Louise (Nina Elias) when older, is pushed aside as Rose pins all her hopes and dreams on June.

The book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim were inspired by "Gypsy: A Memoir" (1957) by Gypsy Rose Lee, the American burlesque performer.

The role of Rose was originated on Broadway by the late great self-described "belter," Ethel Merman (1959), and reprised by Bernadette Peters (2003) and Patti LuPone (2007).

Those are mighty big shoes to fill since each is considered a gold standard portrayal of Rose.

Cartagena's Rose fills those shoes like they were custom-made. The moment she makes her appearance on stage, she commands attention, and not just from low-rent, disheveled kiddie show host Uncle Jocko (Ted Williams), but also from the audience.

Cartagena has stage presence aplenty and a large "belting" voice to match. Casting her as Rose is on point. Any time her name is in a playbill it should be in a role such as this that utilizes her tremendous vocal chops.

Rose at times is an unsympathetic character. She has been even been described as a "monster," but that is misguided. Rose is complex and tragic.

Cartagena knows when to be brassy and bold but also when to be subtle as Rose.

It is these small touches that make the audience care about Rose and also feel sadness for her. Often times, actresses play the part of Rose over the top throughout the entire staging.

The story follows the demise of not only Rose's dreams but the end of vaudeville. Rose refuses to see the changing tide and relentlessly keeps trotting out an act that grows increasingly tired and stale.

Rose refuses to acknowledge her act as well as her stable of child performers has aged past their expiration date and keeps them as virtual indentured servants until one by one they depart, including June.

Rose turns her attention to Louise, who doesn't possess the natural talent and stage presence of June.

Rose refuses to acknowledge the advice and affection of sympathetic manager Herbie (Will Windsor Erwin), who eventually departs after Rose has been reduced to having Louise perform on the striptease circuit.

Venerable area stage veterans Jerry Brucker (playing two characters, Mr. Goldstone and Pastey), Ralph Montesano (Pop), Charles Weigold III (Tulsa), Kirsten Almedia (Ms. Mazeppa) and Cindi Greatsinger (Tessie Tura) give standout performances.

Greatsinger's Tessie almost steals the show as does Almeida's Mazeppa, whose trumpet gimmick is a delight.

Amanda Carol Pascale lights up the stage both literally and figuratively as Electra.

"Gypsy," directed and choreographed by Star of the Day founder Kirsten Almeida, is the physical manifestation of a dream fulfilled rather than deferred.

If this first production by the fledging theater company is any indication, "Everything's Coming Up Roses."