Gypsy, Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace.

This 1959 masterpiece fuses a wisecracking but substantive script and unmatchably snappy songs into theater that’s both entertaining and psychologically probing, a refreshing reminder of how great a musical can be. Based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, it traces her development from vaudeville kiddie-show second banana to the classiest stripper in burlesque under the guidance–and the thumb–of her mother. Jule Styne’s bouncy melodies and Stephen Sondheim’s clever but never show-offy lyrics, full of references to dreams and roses, create an upbeat score, but the show’s power comes from the songs’ juxtaposition with Arthur Laurents’s economical, darkly funny script, whose subjects–family dysfunction and denial–give Gypsy relevance beyond its show-biz milieu.

Gary Griffin’s efficient, cost-conscious revival focuses on emotional details; the result is a very well acted ensemble piece. Ann Arvia is a touch too tarty as Mama Rose (Tyne Daly’s stunning performance on Broadway a few years back established a more believable sexual repression), but Arvia is forceful and funny and in fabulous voice in this quintessential belter role. Jessica Boevers is probably the most interesting Gypsy I’ve seen over the past 20 years; even when she blossoms from ugly duckling into sexy star, she retains a guardedness, vulnerability, and gawkiness very much like the real Gypsy’s. In a generally fine supporting cast, Guy Adkins stands out as Tulsa, the chorus boy who dreams of becoming a headliner; a young performer with real star quality, Adkins combines old-fashioned wholesomeness with a hunger that epitomizes the show’s portrayal of ambition as antidote for personal unhappiness.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Kolack.