Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
"Goodbye to blueberry pie......"
Monroe, CT - The weather was not a friend to Two Planks' outdoor production of 'Gypsy.' The opening weekend was completely rained out and the shows they added to the beginning of the second weekend still didn't help me get there until the closing performance for my review. So with apologies to the theater company that is named for fourteenth century troubadours who would lay boards over their wagons to create their stages presumably outdoors, I submit my better-late-than-never review.
Producer Brooke Burling acknowledged the joys of outdoor theater but pointed out the beauty of Wolfe Park where the summer performances are held. Two Planks has to bring in everything to pull them off, from the stage to the lights and the trussing to the tents that protect the dressing area and the light board operator. The beautiful surroundings are provided by the town of Monroe.
David Halliwell directed the large cast required for Gypsy, where Pop (played well by Joe Stofko) appears in one scene early in act one and does not return to the stage until curtain call. There are baby versions of daughters June and Louise (fifth grader Aubrey Hankin and Bella Raucci respectively,) five young newsboys, many other named characters and three fabulous strippers. Their careful director kept all the moving parts working well.
The versatile Jason Maur covered the roles of Georgie, Kringeline, Webber, the character dubbed 'Cigar' and Bourgeron-Cochon. John DiTaranto was both Uncle Jocko, Mr. Goldstone and came back as Phil. Zach Blanchette did well as Yonkers and Pastey. Robert Thomas Halliwell brought style and grace to the featured role of Tulsa.
Jennifer Sokira was a wonderful Tessie Tura, and her son Ryan appeared as the clarinet boy in his first show with his mom. Jacqueline Maclean (who also played Miss Cratchitt) was shining as Electa. Newtown HS Theatre teacher Janice Gabriel was a riot as the shiny trumpet-playing Mazeppa in her Two Planks debut. They shared a well-deserved ovation at curtain call because they all had made good use of their respective gimmicks.
Carolyn Savoia was perky as the adult Dainty June in the first act before she passed the torch to her sister Louise, played with grace and with a wonderful singing voice by the lovely Catherine Gomez (Landmark's 'Sister Act.')
The always charming Chuck Stango (Dan Goodman in last year's 'Next to Normal') was so great in the role of the ever-faithful Herbie that I couldn't help feeling more sorry for the character than I usually do when Rose puts off marrying him for the final time. "You'll Never Get Away From Me" was a highlight for me. I responded to his instant message from backstage that it was so cool to see him in his straw hat that I remembered from its appearance in 'Music Man' at the Thomaston Opera House.
Of course Juliette Koch (Diana in 'Next to Normal') was an amazing Mama Rose. The ultimate stage mother was brassy and beautiful. As I fully expected, Mrs. Koch put her heart and soul into every one of her magnificent solo pieces and what a treat to hear her give commands to her real-life husband playing the conductor of Uncle Jocko's orchestra referred to as "professor." It was heartwarming to see some of her beautiful family in the audience on closing night. Kudos to this pro on her fabulous final performance as Rose.
I especially enjoyed being able to see the cast members awaiting their entrances at the stairs stage left and the actors walking there from the tents in back. Even in silhouette I knew when Herbie had a scene coming up.
All of the young performers were adorable and got to wear some great costumes. Shoutout to Brighton Davis Gomez making his debut in theatre as Rose's dog Chowsie. The costumes designed by Susan Halliwell were appropriate for the era; the strippers were big and brassy and the ladylike gowns for Gypsy Rose Lee were quite lovely. Good outdoor lighting designed by Rob Primorac made the set designed by Mr. Burling fill the space, and the sound was not bad.
Judy Abbatiello served as choreographer and I always enjoy watching Mr. Stango have to dance. The band under the direction of Ms. Koch's husband Dan, played the classic score with flourish and included Leo Lavallee and Tom Storace on trumpet and trombone master Charley Marenghi.
Photo of Juliette Koch as Rose by Jeanette Raucci for Two Planks