Signature Theatre’s gripping “Gypsy,” a revival of the 1959 musical that is fortified by the crackerjack central performances of Sherri L. Edelen as Momma Rose and Maria Rizzo as daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, so captivated me when I saw it last month that I remain in its Golden Age, show-tune thrall. Musical revivals of this caliber don’t occur very often. When they do, they can become important signifiers of why a great musical can all but immobilize you with its power, and of the dynamism and finesse of a theater company that produces them well.
So I’ve withdrawn this show and some other treasures from my memory banks, and count them here — in chronological order–as the five best revivals of musicals I’ve seen at Signature since 2002. Do you have favorites of your own, shows first produced elsewhere that were revealed in vibrant new incarnations on Signature’s stages in the Village at Shirlington? Feel free to post your choices below. These are mine:
“110 in the Shade” (2003) — This moving production, directed by Eric Schaeffer and featuring, among others, Jacquelyn Piro, Harry A. Winter, Stephen Gregory Smith and Thomas Adrian Simpson, still shimmers in the imagination, 10 years on. The spare staging, in Signature’s old garage space, gave surprising heft to the fervent score by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. And the rain that sprayed over the actors at evening’s end seemed to bathe the audience, too, in a downpour of authentic pleasure.
“Urinetown” (2005) — As cheeky as the irreverent original that metamorphosed from fringe festival standout to Broadway pleasure-giver, this version of the musical spoof by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann flourished under the direction of Joe Calarco and the daft exertions of a cast led by Will Gartshore, Erin Driscoll, Stephen F. Schmidt, Christopher Bloch and Jenna Sokolowski. In fact, the comic acumen was so on-target that the production qualified as the funniest of Signature’s past dozen years.
“Les Miserables” (2008) — Big shows can beguile in small packages. Eschewing the turntable set and epic vision that helped make the Broadway production feel so fluid and majestic, Schaeffer packed the new (and, for musicals, tiny) Signature main stage on Campbell Avenue with sizable talent. As a result, the wallop of the show’s vocal and narrative energy was magnified–far more successfully than in an over-amplified touring version that played the Kennedy Center in 2011, and is soon to come to Broadway.
“Dreamgirls” (2012) Nova Y. Payton, Shayla Simmons, Crystal Joy, Kara-Tameika Watkins: They were Signature’s Dreams–Supremes-style R&B stars, the subjects of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s 1981 show. And yes, yes, yes, they made you happy. Director Matthew Gardiner plugged into the free-flowing Motown electricity harnessed for the Broadway original by Michael Bennett, and delivered a kinetic, prodigiously entertaining installment of a classic musical that swings a mallet at show business’s glittering surfaces.
“Gypsy” (2013) — Director Joe Calarco’s savvily-cast and emotionally astute production enters my pantheon, for everything from its freshly authentic account of the clash of a high strung mother and bullied daughter, to the confident hoofing overseen by Karma Camp, to its keen eye and ear for the tawdry stops along vaudeville’s back roads. You can still see this one for yourself–though tickets are disappearing fast. Consult www.signature-theatre.org soon, because it closes on Jan. 26.