OGLESBY — The rags to rhinestones story of the world’s most famous strip tease artist, Gypsy Rose Lee, will take the Illinois Valley Community College Cultural Centre stage April 10-13 when the theatre department presents “Gypsy.” Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs, the classic musical takes the audience from the last days of vaudeville to the birth of burlesque with well-known songs like, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Let Me Entertain You” and many more.
While the plot follows Gypsy’s true story of humble beginnings – from a kiddie act with her sister to her glory days as the “Queen of Burlesque” – the driving, unstoppable force and star of the show is Gypsy’s mother, Mama Rose, who pushes her daughters mercilessly through show business and toward stardom.
The role was originated on Broadway by Ethel Merman and others who have stepped into the role include Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, and in the film version, Rosalind Russell. For IVCC’s production, the complex character is played by Karen Lesman of La Salle.
“Karen is the whole package – she’s a great singer and belter, as she needs to be for this role, but her acting runs the course from bully to warm moments, and vulnerable to borderline crazy. Karen embraced this difficult role with dedication and professionalism,” said director and choreographer Don Grant Zellmer.
Transforming from gangly to gorgeous in the title role is Emily Hanck of Peru as Gypsy.
“We are truly lucky to have two such strong performers as Emily and Karen for this production,” said Zellmer. “I admire Emily for stepping out of her comfort zone to go from a tomboy to actually doing four strip routines in one number.”
The cast numbers almost 30 and includes community members, students, children and even animals. The cast began rehearsals in February and are now in the final stages of preparation, Zellmer said. This is the first production in the Cultural Centre since construction began on the Peter Miller Community Technology Center in early 2012.
“We’ve been doing our productions all over the place such as St. Bede and the Hegeler-Carus Mansion,” said producer David A. Kuester, “sort of like gypsies, so ‘Gypsy’ seemed a natural choice to reopen the theatre with. We also like to expose our students to the classic musicals that aren’t done as much anymore.”
Others featured in the production are Gary Talsky of Spring Valley as Herbie, Alex Guerrero of La Salle as Tulsa, Hannah Monroe of McNabb as Dainty June and Jessica Nelson of Ladd as Tessie Tura. The production team includes Zellmer, Kuester, music director Norman Engstrom and technical director Jenna Stinson.
Because the production covers the late 1920’s to the early 1940’s and takes place on stage and backstage, the dozens and dozens of costumes include period styles as well as ‘on stage’ costumes such as a two-person cow to three very unique strippers, all with different gimmicks. Taking on the challenge of the look of the show through costuming is Kuester and Stinson.
Tickets are sold at the door and are available one hour prior to show times. General admission is $15, for non-IVCC students $10, and IVCC students get in free with ID. Due to mature content, no children under 10 are permitted.