Photo by Dina Antonucci
Louise (Jacklyn Lisi) and Rose (Mary Ellin Kurtz).

BY TAMMY SCILEPPI

“I wasn’t naked, I was completely covered by a blue spotlight.” – Gypsy Rose Lee

A whole lot of innuendo…

A glove off here, a rolled down stocking there … That subtle sexuality and a flair for the art of the striptease transformed a young Seattle teen into sultry stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, who brought burlesque to a whole new level back in the ’30s. Gypsy knew how to capture her audience’s attention and imagination with her come-hither look and sexy, sophisticated style, while keeping ‘em coming back for more.

Now, this bittersweet story of innocence lost and young Louise Hovick’s rise to stripper stardom as the statuesque Queen of Burlesque — thanks to her domineering, starstruck stage mother, Rose — will be coming to life in Bayside next month. So, don’t miss local theater group Theatre By The Bay’s entertaining revival of “Gypsy” on its main stage.

Tickets can be purchased online at theatrebythebayny.com or via phone at 718-428-6363. 

“The music is absolutely beautiful. This cast is like a dream — the talent just jumps off that stage. Incredible! And I’m super proud,” said artistic director Cathy Chimenti, a Queens resident who noted that directing was her newfound love.

Get ready to take an exciting vaudeville tour as Gypsy encounters some colorful characters along the way, and enjoy those classic songs, like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Small World,” among others.

The cast of incredibly talented performers drawn from the metro New York area and Long Island is led by Mary Ellin Kurtz as Rose, Jacklyn Lisi (from Queens) as Louise, Kate Brady, Samantha Kalinsky as Dainty June (younger daughter June Havoc) and Gary Tifeld (from Queens) as Herbie, the salesman who falls for Rose. Part of the creative team also hails from the borough.

Gypsy’s career spanned more than 20 years and her steamy act was the talk of every town that she visited, from Seattle to Los Angeles. Driven by greed, her own desire for fame, and lacking a moral compass, Mama Rose stopped at nothing to make sure both her daughters got famous, launching them on the vaudeville circuit as young children.

As June moved on to become a “real” actress, Louise went on to become a popular stripper at age 17 or 18. Later, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote her 1957 memoir “Gypsy,” which formed the basis for what many critics laud as the greatest of all American musicals – with its iconic score by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. 

An authentic, compelling story, it describes the hardships of showbiz life and touches on human issues that everyone can relate to on some level.

“When Laurents was asked to write about the stripper, he realized the real story is about the mother. Mama Rose is the proverbial stage mother, but she could be toxic,” Chimenti said. “Rose didn’t see her daughter’s stripping as dirty; she rationalized it. Pretty skanky, huh?”

The artistic director said her favorite song in the show is “Rose’s Turn.” And her favorite part? “The end of Act 1, where June runs away and leaves behind the toxic show biz life she’s led. Now Mama realizes she can make Louise a star,” Chimenti said. “To me, this is such a huge turning point … when Rose sings ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses.’ It’s almost like you see her having a mental breakdown right in front of you; she just unravels. Even the music is sort of like off a little bit at the end,” she explained.

Gypsy Rose Lee died in April 1970, of lung cancer. She was just 59. Today’s “neo-burlesque” performers, like Dita Von Teese and others, have referred to her as a pioneer and an inspiration.

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly … very slowly.” – Gypsy Rose Lee  

“Gypsy” will be presented on Saturday evenings on Nov. 9, 16, and 23 at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoons on Nov. 10, 17, and 24 at 3 p.m.  All performances will be held at Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center, located at 13-00 209th St. in Bayside.

Advance tickets are available for $25 for adults and $22 for kids ages 12 and under and for seniors ages 62 and over. Tickets purchased at the door are available for $2 more.  

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