Tag Archives: Let Me Entertain You

Once upon a stage mom

The mother of all stage mothers, “Mama Rose,” has been portrayed by plenty of legendary actresses in stage and screen versions of the musical “Gypsy.” Ethel Merman. Angela Lansbury. Bette Midler. Patti Lupone.

When “Gypsy” opens at Phoenix Theatre next month, Kathy Fitzgerald will perform the role. I’m eager to see it after enjoying Fitzerald’s truly exceptional performance as Madame Morrible in “Wicked” on Broadway last October with my daughter Lizabeth.

Fitzgerald has also performed in “9 to 5,” “The Producers,” and “Swinging on a Star” on Broadway — plus plenty of Off-Broadway and regional theater productions.

Before moving to Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and 12-year-old daughter Hope, Fitzgerald spent seven years performing on Valley stages. So working with Michael Barnard, who’s directing “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre, is nothing new.

Phoenix Theatre presents the musical "Gypsy" March 7-April 1

“Mama Rose” is often vilified for pushing her daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc into show business. But Fitzgerald says she admires her “incredible drive and passion,” noting that she “pushed and pushed her girls” hoping to give them options not open to most women during the 1920s and 1930s.

“In some ways,” reflects Fitzgerald, “I respect her stength and tenacity.” Fitzgerald notes that “Mama Rose” did everything for her girls and was, in some ways, a pioneer. “Her life,” says Fitzgerald, “was way more tragic and flawed than it’s depicted in this musical.”

Today’s best known stage moms are another story. Fitzgerald says she has a hard time understanding why the mothers of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” put their girls through so much melodrama. Seems the pay is poor for cable shows, though plenty of scenes may live on in digital world forever.

Fitzgerald says she’d “never want to be like” the moms who star on “Dance Moms” — whose nasty neuroses and futile fights typically take place in front of their kids. Having issues is one thing. Airing them in front of your children is another. Sharing them with millions of viewers is just plain creepy.

Daughter Hope is plenty busy with her academically rigorous school, according to Fitzgerald, who adds that neither she nor her husband would let Hope do the theater thing at this point. “There’s plenty of time for that later,” quips Fitzgerald.

Her own childhood was a bit different, however. “My dad ran a theater in L.A.,” says Fitzgerland, “and my mom was pretty pushy too.” Though her own mother died when she was just 15, Fitzgerald says “she knew that I was supposed to be an actor.”

Whether you’re a stage mother (in the best or worst sense of the word), or simply someone who enjoys watching others do the stage mother thing, seeing the musical “Gypsy” is a must.

“Gypsy” debuted on Broadway in 1959 featuring book by Arthur Laurents, music by Stephen Sondheim and lyrics by Jule Styne. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It’s based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Gypsy” is regarded by Fitzgerald and many others as “one of the best musicals of all time.” Its best-known songs include “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The music, says Fitzgerald, “is genius.”

— Lynn

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From new to nostalgic

Valley audiences are currently enjoying one of Broadway’s newest offerings at Phoenix Theatre — the first local theater production of “Avenue Q” in Arizona.

But the 2011/2012 season just unveiled by Phoenix Theatre is all about nostalgia. Good call in terms of capturing the likely mood of Valley audiences.

They’ll open the season with “Boeing, Boeing” — a comical farce “in the tradition of” last year’s “Noises Off.” Minus the sardines and plus three flight attendant “fiancees.” Think suave architect confronted with unexpected schedule changes. I’m looking forward to watching this man sweat.

Gypsy” takes to the stage in October — which conjures images in my mind of stage mamas donning “Mama Rose” costumes and charicatures for Halloween. It’s a classic musical about an age-old struggle with the temptation to live vicariously through our children.

A Christmas Story,” based on the classic film of the same name, opens just before Thanksgiving — and follows the adventures of a young boy who has his heart set on finding one particular toy under the tree. It’s your chance to step into the world of an “all-American 1940s family.”

Marvelous Wonderettes” recounts the lives and loves of teens attending their 1958 prom. Think lipstick, cotton candy and familiar tunes from “Lollypop” to “It’s My Party!” Again, I love the dress-up possibilities.

Their next production, “Nine to Five: The Musical,” offers brushstrokes of a later decade in which accomplished women too often overshadowed by underachieving men decided they’d had enough. It’s Dolly Parton meets revenge on the chauvenist pig.

Finally, Phoenix Theatre presents “The Spitfire Grill,” a story of second chances for a young girl who revitalizes a town as she “makes a new life for herself.”

I’m especially excited about Phoenix Theatre’s choices as the mom of two daughters, for whom performance art has always provided a peek into the past lives of girls and those who have paved paths before them.

In a hurried culture, it’s good to remember while we’re speeding forward.

— Lynn

Note: Next up for Phoenix Theatre this season is the musical “Nine” — which runs April 13-May8, 2011.

Coming up: Another Christmas classic comes to the Valley next season