Space constraints squeeze 'Gypsy' cast

Mary Doveton has overseen a lot of shows at the Lawrence Community Theatre.

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Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

The Lawrence Community Theatre will close its season with a production of the musical "Gypsy." From left, Christa Danner as Louise with dog Molly as Chowsie, Annette Cook as Mama Rose and Jennifer Forman as June rehearsed Tuesday at the theater.

But the upcoming production of the Broadway musical "Gypsy" stands out, in her mind, as a special challenge.

"It's a huge cast," says Doveton, the theater's managing artistic director since 1984.

"We have 25 adults, eight children and a dog. It's one of the biggest casts we've ever had. Once we get over 30 (people), we don't count."

And there's more to the story.

"We've also got about a dozen crew members, five musicians and 17 different scene locations. Then we've got all the furniture and the props for all of that, plus each actor in the show has about three different costume changes," she says.

So Doveton had to do something out of the ordinary to accommodate the size and complexities of performing "Gypsy," which opens June 4.

"When people are on stage, it's fine. But trying to find places in our tiny backstage area and our offstage area in front was just impossible," she says.

"So we're putting a big tent outside the backdoor, partly on the grass and partly on our driveway. We're going to put lawn chairs and fans out there so that people (crew and cast members not on stage) will be more comfortable."

There's no way to know for sure whether the improvised solution will work.

"We've never tried doing this before. We actually had to bring someone in and get rid of the poison ivy first," Doveton says. "We've certainly outgrown the space that we're in and really don't have room to accommodate actors and scenery, costumes, crew members and musicians, plus the audience."

The theater is exploring the possibility of building a larger facility on the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa, but the plan is still in its early stages.

In the meantime, cramped conditions aside, Doveton believes the theater's production of "Gypsy" -- an enduring hit that has been revived on Broadway, television and film -- will prove to be a crowd pleaser.

"This is the first time that we've done 'Gypsy.' The music is absolutely grand, with so many instantly familiar songs that you think, 'Oh my gosh -- that came out of this show,'" Doveton says.

In addition to the show's signature song, "Let Me Entertain You," the score features hits like "Small World," "Everything's Comin' Up Roses," "You'll Never Get Away from Me," "Together, Wherever We Go" and the famous "Rose's Turn."

This production of "Gypsy" -- starring Annette Cook as Mama Rose and Christa Danner as Louise -- is the sixth and final show of the theater's 27th season.

Audiences are invited to travel from vaudeville to burlesque in this legendary musical, which features dialogue by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

"Gypsy" is based on a memoir of the same name, written by the first lady of the world of burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee, about her world and the mother who drove her to fame.

Cook will play the formidable and tempestuous stage mother who battles the hard road of show business to make her girls into stars.

Danner, as Louise, is the gawky, adolescent sister who is thrust into the spotlight and propelled by her mother into becoming more famous in burlesque for her wit and style than her bumps and grinds.

"Gypsy" is under the direction of Doveton, with music direction by Judy Heller and choreography by Barb Wasson. Accompanist is Rick Bixler.

"It's one of those big, old-fashioned musicals where you just come and thoroughly enjoy the songs and the characters," Doveton says. "You will recognize so many of the songs that it's like greeting an old friend."

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