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'Gypsy' at Paul Bunyan Playhouse: Musical fable to open today

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse will conclude its summer season with a run of the musical "Gypsy" opening today through Aug. 14. Two of the 16 members of the cast, Karen Wiese-Thompson and Paul Reburn, rehearse a scene from the play. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

"Gypsy: A Musical Fable" with music by Jules Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is the final production for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse's 60th season of professional summer theater. "Gypsy" will opens at 8 p.m. tonight, Aug. 4, in the historic Chief Theater, downtown Bemidji.

The name of this production implies this entertaining musical is about the life of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick), and while it is loosely based on her 1957 memoirs, it is more a story about the love between mothers and daughters and the dreams they have for one another. And as is so often the case, what one dreams for the other is not necessarily what they would dream for themselves.

When Madam Rose (or Momma Rose as she was affectionately referred to) put her daughters, June and Rose, on stage at local lodge benefits while they were still toddlers, she believed she was paving their way to stardom. Karen Wiese-Thompson plays Rose with a combination of love, determination and ambition. Katherine Tieben, who portrays sister, June, does achieve a certain stardom in vaudeville, only to have that form of entertainment die, leaving the act struggling to find paying jobs. Displaying a hidden strength in her character, June finds her own path despite her mother's administrations. Disappointed in her mother's decisions and unable to replace June in the act, sister Rose Louise, played by Kristen Husby, becomes the only object for her mother's affections. Driven by desperation fueled largely by monetary concerns and an erroneous booking in a questionable "theater," Rose, with the help of several kind-hearted "actresses," manages to make a name as one of the first burlesque artists to imbue a striptease with grace and style. This fame was not what her determined mother had in mind, but Gypsy's success could not be ignored and Momma Rose recognizes this in a mournful song about more dreams, but these are the dreams she had for herself. Supporting this troupe as an agent, friend and father figure is Herbie, played by Paul Reyburn. While the love he has for the three is clear, he finds that Momma Rose's dreams may not be what he needs or wants either. Although all of the characters eventually find their own paths, the audience is left to decide if that choice would have been the same had they not believed in what Madam Rose sold as their own dream to themselves.

The supporting characters that populate this story are endearing in their oddities and the music features many familiar tunes, such as "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Let Me Entertain You" and "Together, Wherever We Go." Abe Hunter and Andrew P. Clemenson provide accompaniment for the performance.

The plays for the 2011 summer season will be announced prior to each performance of "Gypsy." Artistic director Zach Curtis will be returning for that season.

Performances for Gypsy are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and tickets are $22. Sunday, Aug. 8, the matinee is at 2 p.m., and tickets are $11. Student tickets are $10 for anyone younger than 21 and must be purchased in person at the theater. All other tickets may be purchased through the Playhouse Box Office at 218-751-7270 or online at