Shawfest plays up the art of striptease with Gypsy
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 15:07
Stunning costumes, show-stopping tunes and a timeless story hit the Shawfest stage this spring with the landmark Broadway musical Gypsy.
Gypsy is loosely based on the true story of Gypsy Rose Lee, one of the most famous strip teasers of the '30s. The play has seen several revivals, with its original production taking place in 1959.
Unraveling a tale of mother-daughter companionship and exposing the unstoppable drive that exists within those yearning to become stars, Gypsy was recreated on Broadway most recently in 2003.
Actress Julie Martell enters her first year at the Shaw Festival, portraying the character of Louise, who later becomes the famous striptease.
"In the play, June is the most talented daughter, and I play Louise, who is not so talented," said Martell. "June ends up leaving to go be a star, and Rose decides to put her attention to Louise. She is determined to make her daughter a star, even though she has no talent."
In the beginning of the play, Martell's character is portrayed as an awkward 15-year-old, before developing into a young lady with a blossoming personality. This transformation that takes place with each performance turned out to be the actress' greatest challenge.
"I think it's such a huge arc that I play with Louise," said Martell. "In the beginning of the play I'm very meek, mild and shy, and then two-and-a-half hours go by and I am the exact opposite. To mentally do that arc every night, that in itself is a challenge. I would say that I'm quite a confident person in everyday life, but having to play such a shy, stifled character I kind of notice that I'm more introverted in my real life now, while I'm playing Louise."
In preparation for her role as the famous Gypsy Rose Lee, the Cape Breton native looked to articles and novels in order to make the role her own.
"I did a lot of research on Gypsy Rose Lee. There are a few movies that were made, but I still haven't seen them, because I decided I wanted to be able to make the role my own," said Martell. "So I mostly just did research on the art of striptease, either clippings of Gypsy Rose Lee, articles of her and she also wrote a few novels later on in her career. I looked at a lot of great pictures that would kind of give me a sense of her character and personality."
Costume designer Judith Bowden brings the vaudeville and burlesque theatres of the '20s and '30s to life on the Shaw Festival stage with intricately designed dresses.
"The costumes are amazing. During one part of the show, when I become Gypsy Rose Lee from Louise, I do three or four quick changes in a row and they're amazing dresses," said Martell. "They're off the shoulder, striptease dresses with zips all the way down the front. And that's quite different from the sloppy, baggy pajamas I wear in the first act. In the beginning, they really try to make me look like a boy, so by the time they bring out the first dresses, it's like, 'Whoa, she's a girl!'"
With obvious elements of both a musical and a play, Gypsy's production at Shaw is sure to have something for every kind of theatre lover.
"Coming from someone whose career has been pretty much based in music theatre, the story is a wonderfully written book," said Martell. "So as Jackie Maxwell (director of Gypsy) said when we started rehearsals, 'it's so lovely to have these pages and pages of scenes.' Because in most musicals, you maybe have 10 lines of dialogue and then you go right into a song and so on. But in this musical, you literally have a five page scene that you can really sink your teeth into and then it blossoms into an amazing song. So you have the best of both worlds. I think it's a lovely script that could easily be done as a play without the music."
The tale of the unique bond between a mother and daughter proves timeless in the classic Gypsy; despite its numerous revivals and its aged script, the play continues to carry a modern significance and never fails to entertain.
"Because it is a revival, and Jerome Robbins was the original choreographer and director, a lot of it has to stay intact," said Martell. "The Jerome Robbins' estate actually has a certain amount of say in what can be done. Some of it has been modified by Valerie Moore, who's an amazing choreographer. She stays very true to the original style. However the story is not dated whatsoever. It's about the relationship between a mother and daughter, and as a young 20-year-old, I know that the story is still poignant today."
"I think audiences will just love Gypsy; I think that everyone can relate to the story. Whether you're a straight theatre lover, or whether you love musical theatre."
Gypsy will be at the Shaw Festival until Oct. 30.. www.shawfest.com.