This summer in Waynesville, it’s an unconventional rags-to-riches tale that will light up the Haywood Arts Regional Theater mainstage with song, dance and just a little more — or maybe less.
“Gypsy” is the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, the legendary burlesque dancer who rose to fame on the hopes and schemes of her show-biz mother.
Lee was well known for bringing a special brand of wit and sophistication to the world of high-class strip tease, and the musical adapts her own view of her meteoric rise to stardom.
While the show is a big-time Broadway musical in the tradition of “Hello Dolly,” “Guys and Dolls” and their ilk, Director Steven Lloyd said it eally hinges on its characters rather than its choral numbers.
“It really is about people that you come to care about,” said Lloyd, who is the executive director of HART. “It’s a good actor’s musical.”
But don’t be fooled, it’s also a major undertaking, the largest the theater has ever produced.
With 14 sets, more than 100 costumes and 50 people working in the cast and crew, it’s the largest and most expensive show that’s ever graced the stage at HART.
Lloyd said they chose this year to stage such a performance because he felt that it was about time for the regional amateur theater to get back into the big, Broadway staples, especially since no one in Western North Carolina has brought “Gypsy” to life in years.
“It’s an opportunity to kind-of pull the stops out and do something special,” said Lloyd.
In total, the show will cost around $30,000, more than the theater has shelled out on other productions, but Lloyd said he is confident in the show and in the fan base that has made HART’s summer musicals legendary.
Though the theater stages shows year round, it’s really the annual summer musical that has made HART a regional theater player.
This year, Lloyd expects 4,000 people to attend the musical’s 14-show run, which starts on July 8 and continues through July 24. Half of those, said Lloyd, will be out-of-town visitors, but half will be locals and season ticket holders.
Each summer, the troupe’s musical offering brings in 20 to 25 percent of the theater’s total operating budget, so Lloyd and his cast and crew are counting on Gypsy to draw the same crowds today as she did in her burlesque heyday.
The show is based on the memoirs of Lee, born Rose Louise Lee, which chronicle her life in show business in the 30s and 40s. Lee rose from upstaged older sister on the Vaudville circuit to world-renowned burlesque performer in only a few years, spurred on by her mother, Rose.
Mama, Lloyd points out, is really the heart of the show, at turns encouraging and exasperating, doing whatever it takes to make her baby a star.
“Mama is really the star,” said Lloyd. “It’s really her story.”
Telling that story is a cast of amateur players from around the region, some seasoned performers and some first-time thespians.
The show, said Lloyd, can be a challenge just because of its massive scope. On both the Vaudville and burlesque circuits, the troupe never travels the same place twice, making sets and scenes a production all their own.
But when the curtain finally closes on “Gypsy,” it will leave audiences celebrating the wit, talent and guts of one of the stage’s most celebrated performers.
‘Gypsy’ at HART
WHEN: July 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m.; July 10, 17, 24, 31 at 3 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Adults $22, Seniors $20, Students $10