By Janee Law
The John W. Engeman Theater’s rendition of “Gypsy” instantly sets the scene, as the orchestra opens up the production with a jazzy introduction that brings audience members back to the 1920s.
Directed by Igor Goldin and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, “Gypsy” depicts the rags-to-riches transformation of Louise (played by Austen Danielle Bohmer), an awkward girl who rose to national prominence as burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee.
The production brings energetic musical numbers, comedy and sincerity.
The journey is ruled by Rose (played by Michele Ragusa), who pushes her daughters Louise and June (played by Charity Van Tassel) into show business in an effort to live vicariously through them.
The show begins, however, with younger versions of the sisters, Baby June (played by Kyla Carter) and Baby Louise (played by Amanda Swickle), before jumping years ahead in the story.
Ragusa’s performance as the fame-hungry mother is mesmerizing. Her passion to push her daughters into show business intensifies throughout the production, climbing up the ladder that will lead her to discontent and awareness.
Audience member Sharon Boyle, of Sayville, said after last Thursday’s show that Rose was her favorite character of the night, praising Ragusa for her “strong voice” and “big personality.”
Another member of the audience Tove Abrams, of West Sayville, said the talent of the cast is of the same quality as that found on Broadway.
Abrams continued, “What impressed me was the scenic design. I very much enjoyed the transitions. It’s very well thought out and it moves the whole plot along very quickly.”
Her favorite scene of the night was “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” in which burlesque performers Mazeppa (played by Jennifer Collester Tully); Electra (played by Amber Carson); and Tessie Tura (played by Suzanne Mason) demonstrate their individual burlesque acts to Louise.
The number was packed with energy and drew plenty of laughs from the audience.
Another iconic scene, the energetic tap dancing number “All I Need Is The Girl,” comes in the first act of the production. Tulsa (played by Brian Thomas Hunt) and Louise deliver the number, conveying the dreams of the young characters, and hinting at Louise’s anticipated transformation.
Bohmer, who plays Louise, said after the show the scene is one of her favorites.
“I love that whole sequence,” Bohmer said. “I think that’s the first moment that [Louise] feels like a woman and that somebody really looks at her as a woman so I love doing that scene.”
She added that playing Louise is a dream role for her.
“She is one of the best well-written arcs in all of musical theater history,” Bohmer said. “She goes on quite the journey so to be able to go from zero to 100 really quickly has been awesome.”
Bohmer added that she enjoyed the second half of the production, working closely with Ragusa, to convey an intense, but caring, mother-daughter relationship.
“Working with Michele has just been a master class,” Bohmer said. “Michele is brilliant and getting to learn from her and work with her every night is the greatest gift I could have ever been given.”
Showings of Northport Engeman Theater’s production of “Gypsy” run through Oct. 29. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays show time is 8 p.m.; on Saturdays show times are 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and on Sundays show times are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets ($73-$78) are available at the 250 Main St. box office or Engemantheater.com.