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Liberally based on the memoirs of striptease performer Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy, the musical was created by Arthur Laurents (book), Jule Styne (music), and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics); it premiered on Broadway in 1959 and starred the inimitable Ethel Merman. Many critics consider it the greatest American musical ever staged, including erstwhile New York Times theater writer Frank Rich, who compared Gypsy to King Lear. Critic Clive Barnes stated in one article that “Gypsy is one of the best musicals.” Barnes goes on to describe Rose (the mother of all stage mothers) as “one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical.”

Indeed, from Merman to Angela Lansbury (in London, 1973) to Tyne Daly (1989 Broadway revival) to Bernadette Peters (2003 Broadway revival) to Patti Lu Pone (2008 Broadway revival), grand matrons of the musical theater have taken to the herculean task of characterizing Mama Rose. So immense is the challenge, and so demanding is the role, only players with sterling stage skills and powerful performing chops need apply.

Now, Southern California audiences have a rare opportunity to see and hear for themselves as Gypsy is given a rare staging by the West Coast Ensemble in Hollywood, through July 3. Jan Sheldrick portrays Mama Rose with all the firepower necessary for us to believe in this smother-mother’s obsessive antics. Though Sheldrick’s voice may at times lose its way in terms of timbre, the vocal imperfections only seem to enhance Sheldrick’s faceted assaying of this most flagrant of control-freaks.

Mama Rose is the sort of parent who claims ownership of her offspring. Fairness and equal treatment of her many charges (including the boys and girls who join Rose’s feeble vaudeville act, and receive “experience” as payment for their efforts) is not at issue for Rose. After all, this is show business, and Rose doesn’t take no for an answer.

Under the skillful direction of Richard Israel, and with exquisite musical direction by Johanna Kent, as well as John Todd’s dazzling choreography, Gypsy puts the metaphoric magnifying glass not only to the bygone eras of the Roaring Twenties and the downtrodden 1930s, but also to the ever-current issue of mothers attempting to find solace and identity through the lives of their female children. With a credible and capacious cast sporting spot-on costumes by Zale Morris, it is as if we are transported to another time and other places by this Gypsy.

Stephanie Wall exudes innocence and wholesome beauty as Rose’s eldest daughter, Louise (aka, Gypsy Rose Lee). Those qualities make it all the more heartrending when the ingénue transforms into a world renowned burlesque artist.

Amazingly, Gypsy puts nearly two dozen performers of various ages and assorted types onstage. Each one makes an impression on the production. Michael Matthys incarnates Herbie with both heart and soul, while Tony Pandolfo and Larry Lederman excel in eight separate roles between them. There is an uproarious scene that involves three strippers—Sara J. Stuckey (a hoot), Jessica Schatz (ebulliently muscular), and trumpet-tooting Kelly Jean Clair (hilarious). And, unforgettably, there are the children and teen players, including the wonderful Kaliegh Ryan as baton-twirling Baby June and Caitlin Williams as Baby Louise.

Special shout-outs go to Kailey Swanson as Dainty June and Eric Allen Smith as Tulsa, who is nicely spotlighted in a largely solo number titled “All I Need is the Girl.” With nineteen song and dance routines—including such standards as “Let Me Entertain You” and “Everything’s Coming up Roses”—coupled with an evergreen narrative as full of drama and dilemma as anything this side of Chekov, Gypsy (with a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes)is an ageless show for all ages.

Gypsy, a West Coast Ensemble production, continues at The Theatre of Arts Arena Stage—1625 North Las Palmas, Hollywood—through July 3. Show times are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Matinees are Sundays at 3 p.m. For reservations, dial (323) 655-0108. For online ticketing and further details, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.