Former Guiding Light star Kim Zimmer takes on the mother of all stage roles in CLO's "Gypsy."
Robert Newman and his CLO 'Gypsy' co-star have chemistry to spare.
By Maria Sciullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First, Reva’s Turn, now Rose’s.
Pittsburgh CLO reunites former longtime “Guiding Light” lovers Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman for “Gypsy,” which opens Friday at the Benedum Center. “Reva and Josh” had the honor of being in the final scene of the soap, which went off the air in 2009 after 57 years.
Where: Pittsburgh CLO at Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: Friday through July 19. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $20-$70.75; 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghclo.org.
During a lunch break early in the “Gypsy” rehearsal process, they bantered like the old faux-married couple they were for all those years. Ms. Zimmer reached over to pat him on the shoulder a few times, once guffawing after a private joke.
As for “Gypsy,” Ms. Zimmer rightfully called it “almost the perfect musical,” with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. The 1959 original featured choreography by Jerome Robbins and a powerhouse star turn by Ethel Merman as Mama Rose, the mother of all stage mothers.
There’s a reason it has been revived four times on Broadway, including the most recent, a 2008 tour de force by Tony winner Patti LuPone. “Gypsy” is the story of a Depression-era mother determined to make her daughter, June, a star in vaudeville, no matter what.
Her attentions also run toward her other, less flashy, daughter, Louise. Traveling salesman Herbie, played by Mr. Newman, is the man who could bring stability to their crazy lives, if only Rose would let him.
“There’s a lot of darkness that happens between a mother and her daughters. This man wants to do the right thing and be the right person for her, but I think also that he really wants to have a family. I think he sees himself as potentially being a savior,” said Mr. Newman, adding that Herbie might not be the force of nature that is Rose, but he isn’t weak.
Bolstered by hits such as “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Together, Wherever We Go” and “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” “Gypsy” also features one of the most renowned overtures in musical theater.
Although there are kids in the show — more than a dozen boys and girls in Mama Rose’s traveling band of “Farmboys” and “Newsboys” — as well as a lamb and dog, “Gypsy” isn’t a show for children. Mama Rose makes hard choices for her daughters, and the book is based, after all, on the memoir of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
How then, to freshen a well-known musical?
“One of the extraordinary things about theater is, when you see a remake in film, 99 percent of the time it’s extremely disappointing,” said Mr. Newman, whose CLO resume includes “A Little Night Music” (2005) and “The Full Monty” (2007).
“But part of what we do [is because] we’re all individuals who bring our town tools, our own equipment, our own personalities to the table, and we make it ours.
“In this case, Kim is making Rose her own Rose. It can’t be anybody else’s; it can’t be Ethel Merman’s.”
Or Angela Lansbury’s, and Tyne Daly’s and Bernadette Peters,’ or the film versions by Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler.
“I’d like to not think about them right now,” Ms. Zimmer said, laughing. “Robert says it has to be a little freaky, knowing all these women have done it before, but I can’t even think about that. I am a different person than they are. I sing differently than they do. I act differently than they do, I carry myself differently.”
They all have to belt. Like Ms. Zimmer’s soap character, Reva Shayne, Mama Rose is a loud, brassy lady. At the same time, Ms. Zimmer added, in a Merman-esque twang, “ANYBODY CAN DO IT LIKE THIS, TALK BIG AND BE MAMA, LOUD … but there are so many intricacies about the character that I’m hoping to embrace.”
“Kim can sell a song better than anybody I know. I really believe that from the bottom of my heart,” Mr. Newman said.
Ron Raines, the actors’ “Guiding Light” colleague, starred in CLO’s “Man of LaMancha” last month.
“We were texting back and forth and his big thing with me was ‘pace yourself.’ He’d end every text with ‘pace yourself’ and I’d be like, ‘OK, Dad,’ ” Ms. Zimmer said.
She credited musical director Tom Helm with helping set that pace. Going big, vocally, is best reserved for numbers like the 11th-hour “Rose’s Turn.”
“Guiding Light” is long gone, but sharing scenes at the Benedum evokes a certain bond, Mr. Newman said. Most of the soap’s scenes were shot on a three-walled set, often in chronological order.
“To me, it was almost like doing a one-act play, every day.”
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.
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