Last summer I made the trek to see PCLO’s LEGALLY BLONDE and FOOTLOOSE and when my friend was cast once again this season I got excited. It’s only a four and half hour drive from Cincinnati to see some of the best theatre this side of New York City. Things are hectic, though, in my non-theatre going life so I settled on just seeing one of his two shows and bought really good seats for THE WEDDING SINGER (opening next weekend).
And then I saw that Kim Zimmer was cast as “Mama Rose.”
Most people know her as “Reva Shayne” from CBS’s Guiding Light. She’s soap opera royalty. I am a fan of her work, though, as a guest star on the greatest topical television sitcom ever written, “Designing Women.” For those of you not old enough to remember this series, it featured four interior designers who owned their own firm exploring topics like AIDS, pornography, labor laws, self-esteem, women’s health, working mothers, and more and in an incredibly funny way. In the late 80s and early 90s, no other show was as daring and few shows can match it for character development and its well-rounded approach to social justice and comedy.
There was one episode in particular that always rang an emotional chord with this Sappy Critic and it is called “The Rowdy Girls.”
Charlene, one of the lead characters on the show, enlisted her cousin “Mavis,” to teach the other ladies choreography for a talent show. “Mavis” is played by Kim Zimmer. As the episode progresses we learn that she is the victim of the domestic violence and her story is heartbreaking. There are no easy answers to the problem in the episode but the magic is in the fact that it was addressed on television at all. Ms. Zimmer is magnificent and honest and vulnerable in her performance. I’ve been a fan ever since and my friend told me how wonderful she was both on stage and off and well . . . I had to make the trip.
I blindly booked a room on Priceline and ended up with an incredible 56% off price for the Omni William Penn hotel. This grand old place is in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh and features a fantastic lobby, the grandeur of an era passed on, with the modern conveniences of today in the rooms themselves.
I then picked out my seat and lamented how far away from the stage I was going to be . . . but budgets are budgets. And then I asked for the day off work. It was going to be a wonderful adventure.
I made my way up, checked in to the hotel to find the lobby full of Vietnam veterans having a convention. It was crowded but there are few groups I’d prefer over this one. If the hotel was going to be full, veterans are better than – oh, I don’t know . . . junior high cheerleaders? You get my point.
I rested for a bit, had dinner with my friend, and then headed to the Box Office. For a few bucks more I was able to upgrade my seat to the floor – 6th row center to be exact. This was a great seat to watch this spectacular show.
Sweetening the pot, Zimmer’s long time on-air partner Robert Newman (“Joshua Hamilton”) was cast as “Herbie.” It’s a soap-fans dream and there were several in the crowd tonight. I even made small talk in the lobby with one who’d driven over from Altoona to see the two of them on stage together.
Zimmer absolutely lights up the stage with her fierce performance. She has the raw gusto required, the ambition, the stubborn and bull headedness, and the dark, mean streak of a woman who’s dreams were never realized. Her final number (“Rose’s Turn”) is an absolute show-stopper and I wanted to give her a standing ovation the second it was over.
The chemistry she has with Newman is exquisite, of course, and every actor and actress on stage does a great job of living in the Vaudeville era. Standout in the large ensemble include Susan Cella (“Tessie Tura”), Amma Osei (“Mazeppa”), Zach Timmer (“Tulsa”), Mallory Michaellann (“June”), Danny Bevins (“Yankers”) among others.
Perhaps the most inspiring performance comes from the ironically named Amanda Rose as “Louise.” This is really her story after all and she is a phenomenal actress. Watching her transformation from a “talently-challenged” plain girl into the world’s most famous stripper is mesmerizing.
The direction and choreography were so good I didn’t even notice them; that’s exactly how it should be. All the pieces should fit and focus on the overall show; nothing was a distraction. Even the amazing set pieces, sound design, and orchestra were superb – and all supported one of our greatest American musicals. This is a high caliber production.
After the show – and the well deserved standing ovation – I was able to meet Ms. Zimmer and take a photo with her.
I can’t wait until next Saturday when my friend Connie and I make another road trip adventure to Pittsburgh to see THE WEDDING SINGER. (She and I are heading to Louisville on Sunday to see PETER PAN so stay tuned for that one, too).
GYPSY starring Kim Zimmer runs through Sunday at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh. For more information and tickets, click here. I highly recommend this one.